McKenzie: perform or perish
August 22, 2013
Ewen McKenzie has resisted making wholesale changes © Getty Images
Ewen McKenzie has kept the faith but also sent a blunt message to his beaten Wallabies: Perform or perish.
While sticking with his first Test team for Saturday night's return Bledisloe Cup clash at Westpac Stadium, McKenzie quickly warned on Thursday he's in no mood to wait patiently for results.
Rebuilding, or renovating as the new coach likes to call it, will not provide any protection to rookies taking time to adapt or stalwarts failing to deliver, even against the highly-experienced world champion All Blacks.
Unlike predecessor Robbie Deans, who had a four-year charter to prepare for the 2011 IRB World Cup when he started in 2008, McKenzie isn't looking at his job as a long-term "project". McKenzie has retained under-fire Brumbies Jesse Mogg and Matt Toomua in an unchanged backline from the 47-29 loss in Sydney, but also let all know that international opportunities can be fleeting.
McKenzie thought long and hard about changes but felt small tweaks and more work on their under-construction base game would go further in overturning the result - especially after giving up four soft tries in Bledisloe I.
"We had five guys on debut last week so we are renovating the team in that sense but this is not a three-year project," McKenzie said. "We don't have time to be messing around. We have to get on with it and own up. I'm not sitting here suggesting it's going to take time. We have good players. If you perform you get a go, you have to take that opportunity. If the train stops at the station you have to get on. Otherwise it leaves. That's how it works."
McKenzie said his players would use the pain of the opening Bledisloe defeat to uncork a spirited fightback.
"I'm angry and I know the players are in the same space," he said. "You have to take the emotion out of that performance and do something about it the next week. We have a great opportunity to play against the most consistent team in the world and that's how you benchmark yourself."
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview Bledisloe II%]
Australia's only change is forced through injury with abrasive Brumbies lock Scott Fardy replacing Hugh McMeniman (shoulder) at blindside flanker and expected to do better cleaning out and making an impact at the breakdown.
There's a fortnight in between the Westpac Stadium encounter and their next, against South Africa in Brisbane on September 7, and greater preparation time would certainly allow for alterations in personnel and plans.
Veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper indicated the young backline knew they were on notice.
"This is Test match football so we understand there's a lot of competition for spots in the backline and if we don't perform Ewen will make changes," the 81-Test centre said.
McKenzie said both Toomua and Mogg had responded well this week and the biggest challenge was finding a better run-kick balance after holding the ball for twice as many tackles got them little reward against the All Blacks.
New Zealand surprised by gambling on rookie Tom Taylor ahead of Colin Slade to solve a five-eighth injury crisis which has sidelined Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett.
Follow live text commentary of the Bledisloe Cup Test between New Zealand and Australia on Saturday, August 24, from 5pm (AEST), 7pm (NZT), 7am (GMT)
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup