How hard has it been being a Wallaby fan this last three weeks? That’s now four losses in a row, with loads of dropped balls, stupid flicks and just plainly better opposition in between.
Well, welcome to the world of the Force fan. For the past few years – you could probably extend that to their whole existence – they’ve had to endure all that, and worse. You can also add to that, having to put up with those dastardly east coast elites.
Over the June international break, it’s been a bit wild out west, as the deafening noise surrounding Sir Eddie Jones’ graceful presence gave the Force board an opportunity to say “smell ya later” to Michael Foley with a minimum of fuss.
And that they did – Foley was sacked on the 12 June, ending his three-and-a-bit seasons at NIB Stadium. During his time there, Foley only ever managed one finals push – in 2014, the Year of the Honey Badger – and generally oversaw stylistically awful, results-based football that didn’t get results. He leaves Perth with a win record better than Richard Graham’s – 30% vs 25% – but that’s hardly any consolation. (And Graham has a better record as a Super coach anyway, with 33% vs Foley’s 29%)
There is an opportunity to throw up a number of caveats to Foley’s unsuccess – funding, geography, local playing stocks, etc – or positives to his reign – the emergence of Dane Haylett-Petty, Ben McCalman and Adam Coleman as bonafide or possibly bonafide Wallabies, etc – but when reflecting on the fact that he, Graham and John Mitchell (now coaching the US after 3 years out of the game) are the only permanent coaches the Force have ever had, it’s easy to say the Force have never had a star, or even a good, head coach.
So GAGR’s best minds – and me – have gotten together to thrash out a shopping list of the type of coaching candidates the ARU should consider appointing to the Force. (We also recognise that the QRU are currently doing some head coach headhunting off their own, and are also seeking ARU input).
The Foreign Coach
The ARU may be reluctant to bring in another foreign coach with one already taking up a spot at the Waratahs. However, given the turnover of positions post-World Cup, there are a few people looking for new opportunities. The Force would provide an excellent opportunity for a coach with a point to prove to prove his point. Now that the ARU have stepped in to provide some administrative certainty to the organisation, overseas candidates can rest easy on the HQ front.
The foreign coach option provides an option for the ARU and Force to bring in an established international coach, with experience at the highest level, to come in and lay their influence on a group of undoubtedly highly exciting players. The impact of such experience on such a talent base can be almost immediate as previously evidenced by the work of Jake White at the Brumbies.
Leading options would seem to be Stuart Lancaster, who it has been confirmed as been in contact with the Force to express his interest, and Todd Blackadder who has only been ‘linked’ to the club at this stage. The ARU would have to take a leap of faith on both coaches that they have learnt from their failings (Lancaster) or are able to adjust the an environment away from the comforts of the known (Blackadder).
Blackadder would seem to be most people’s first choice, but it must be remembered that before the World Cup, Lancaster had a decent record with England – four runners-up in the Six Nations isn’t too bad. As pointed out on the latest GAGR pod, one game for Eddie Jones catapulted his reputation; perhaps Lancaster isn’t as bad as a coach as England’s performance at the World Cup makes him out to be. Not long after the World Cup, Lancaster unsurprisingly came out with the news that he was raring to set the record straight, and unfortunately for him, was blocked from the Harlequins job by the players. It makes sense for the one-time up-and-comer to get his career back on track in the southern hemisphere.
The Overseas Aussie
On the other hand, the ARU may see this has an ideal opportunity to entice one of the overseas-based Aussie coaches back to our shores to take on the Head Coaching role, and perhaps build options for post-Cheika. The benefits are obvious in that we continue to develop Australian talent and provide the opportunities for our coaches (as well as our players) the chance to showcase their talent in Australia. The experience gained overseas can only be an advantage.
A couple of candidates here would seem to be former Brumbies Assistant and co-Coach, Laurie Fisher and former Reds Assistant Coach, Matt Taylor. ‘Tattsy’ Taylor is currently both the Assistant Coach for Scotland and the Assistant Coach of the Glasgow Warriors. He was one of the coaching cornerstones of the 2011 Championship winning Reds team and must surely looking for an opportunity to step up as Head Coach.
Swapping cold and dreary Canberra for dreary and cold Gloucester, Fisher left these comfortable shores two years ago. As head coach of Gloucester, he’s guided them to two comfortable – too comfortable – mid-table finishes, being on just the wrong side of having a 50% win rate in the league. However, Gloucester has tasted success under Fisher’s tutelage, winning the European Challenge Cup in 2015. It would be nice to see Fisher return to Australia, as not only did he wave his magic wand over the Brumbies’ set-pieces to great effect, but also because he has brilliant hair.
The involvement of the ARU in both this process and the management of the Force, means that there is the distinct chance that this position could go to someone already on the ARU payroll. The one that springs to mind is current Aussie U20s coach, Adrian Thompson.
Thompson has been doing a steady job as coach of the Australian U20s side, guiding the young Wallabies to a win over New Zealand for the first time in ever in U20 representative rugby. He just missed out on the Tahs hotseat to Daryl Gibson, and with the ARU now having a big say at Force HQ, it would make sense that they’d want to give Thompson, who gets the big thumbs up from Nathan Grey and Eddie Jones, a shot at the big time.
Despite the historic victory over the ‘Small Blacks’ earlier this year, the Under 20s have again disappointed at the Junior World Cup and ‘relocating’ Thompson to Perth may open up the Junior program to a fresh voice and new ideas.
Assistant Coach promotion
It seems likely that the implications of the Head Coach recruitment process at the Reds will see one, if not both, of their Co-Interim Head Coaches, Nick Stiles and Matt O’Connor, leave. There seems to be two ways this will go. One of Stiles or O’Connor will get the gig and the other will leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere, or a new Head Coach will be appointed and either one or both of Stiles and O’Connor will depart. Thus they become an opportunity for the Force.
The two currently in charge of the Reds have been slowly massaging the Queenslanders back into form and respectability, something missing from the Reds ever since James O’Connor tried to clear the ball that one time. There’s a general feeling that Stiles may have shown more with the forwards than O’Connor has with the backs, but it is interesting to note that new Reds recruit George Smith speaks extremely highly of O’Connor as a coach. If O’Connor was to get the role, would Stiles consider heading back to Perth where he spent about four years as an Assistant Coach.
There’s plenty to consider when appointing a High Performance Coach, a position which is undoubtedly the most important appointment in the team, and we’ve only touched the surface. It is crucial that the Force find someone who can galvanise their playing squad and entice new talent to the team whilst realising the potential of the existing talent. The fact that they are undergoing this process at the same time as the Reds just adds to the mystery. Let’s hope for Australian rugby’s sake both teams secure the right person for the job.