The opening round of the 2014 Asteron Life Super Rugby season kicks-off this weekend, and Qantas Wallabies Head Coach Ewen McKenzie lent his time to share his experiences on coaching in one of the world’s most challenging Rugby tournaments.
ARU: You were at the Asteron Life Super Rugby Launch this week; in what ways do you think the Qantas Wallabies success at the back-end of 2013 has created anticipation for the 2014 Asteron Life Super Rugby season?
Ewen: During the 2013 season the Qantas Wallabies didn’t achieve the results we wanted regarding the volume of wins. However a strong finish to the season, with four back-to-back wins on the road, has created a bit of momentum for us in 2014.
We had the second most successful Spring Tour ever, and there is plenty of evidence that Rugby’s die-hard supporters were left hungry for more on field action. With the next opportunity to see the National side’s players being during the Super Rugby season, hopefully that translates into an increase in attendance to games, or larger broadcast figures for the provincial competition.
ARU: Do you think Qantas Wallabies success has a strong bearing on Super Rugby’s success?
Ewen: I think they feed off each other. The Wallabies are a genuine representative side whose players are chosen from the Super Rugby teams, so it is a natural progression for fans to want to watch their Super Rugby squad members play for Wallabies and vice-versa.
ARU: This is your first time watching the Asteron Life Super Rugby season as a Qantas Wallabies Head Coach. What things do you think you will look at differently now compared to when you were a Club-coach?
Ewen: I will be focusing on three things from the side-lines; selection, team tactics and trends.
It will be interesting to see how established players perform and who is constantly improving, as well as how the next line of players handle the pressure of the professional game. Super Rugby has the added complexity of travel so acclimatisation to playing across different time zones will be something I will be watching closely too.
The Super Rugby competition is a hot-bed for innovation and change. I will be keen to monitor how teams adapt to not only their opponents style of play, but also how they adjust to the subtle changes regarding rule interpretations, and modify their playing action in order to remain competitive.
Then there are things like assessing an opponent well in advance. As a Club coach you tend to focus on your team and your next opponent. You don’t tend to look too far into the future or watching teams that you aren’t set to face until later in the year. I will spend more time monitoring trends in successful teams in Super Rugby and the Six Nations.
ARU: Super Rugby is widely regarded as one of the fiercest provincial tournaments in the world. We will see three new Head Coaches taking the reins in the Australian conference. How hard is it to enter a new Club in this competition?
Ewen: Coaching is one of those things that when you win it’s easy, and everyone takes credit for achievements; it’s when you’re losing that the pressure really hits.
Looking across the coaching group, there is a lot of experience. Experience can be in a Head Coaching role within Super Rugby, experience as an Assistant Coach, there are former players who have represented at an International level, and a number of overseas coaching success stories.
But when you’re out there, it is still 80mins and fifteen a side. I am very confident with all the respective coaching structures and their capacity to deliver.
ARU: You mentioned overseas experience, Tony McGahan and Michael Cheika have had many successes in the Head Coaching role in Europe, how did you personally find the transition from coaching overseas to coaching back in Australia?
Ewen: Both Tony McGahan and Michael Cheika have done good work coaching successfully in Europe and in fact Richard Graham, Michael Foley and Laurie Fisher have also coached successfully over there. So I guess we all know what a variety of coaching experiences exist, and no two jobs are the same.
Tony, while new to Super Rugby this year, has been around for a while and has been involved in establishing, developing and maintaining some world-class outfits. So even though he doesn’t have Super Rugby experience, he still brings a wealth of knowledge. His coaching formula would be well entrenched and he would have definite plans about what is important in order to achieve.
As a coach there is always stress about winning week to week, but when it comes to the challenge of the role they won’t be nervous.
ARU: Similar to your position with the Qantas Wallabies, two Head Coaches are returning for their second Super Rugby seasons in charge at their respective teams. What is your secret to surviving season two?
Ewen: It is your second season when it is your second season. But when you have been around long enough, it isn’t your second season anymore, it is your fifth, ninth or tenth. With the exception of Stephen Larkham, who is starting out as a Head Coach, the others have all been through the coaching mill over the years and are still going so that’s a good sign.
In this business you don’t have long to get your coaching style right. You need to create a formula that you want to work by, and be fairly forthright and determined about making the change to how you want the team to be structured. No two jobs are the same so you need to work it out quickly.
I have half a season done at the Qantas Wallabies now. I inherited an existing team and circumstances so I am excited about the prospect of developing the squad further. This year will be the first chance I have to think about what the Wallabies season will look like and I’m enjoying that I can influence that and create some winning consistency.