The new ‘Bush2Bledisloe’ team initiative was created by Qantas Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie and will bring passionate NSW country supporters closer to the national team than ever before with a range of community activities planned during each stage of the tour. The team will embark on a five-day rural road trip through Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst and Penrith from Monday 4 August. We spoke to Qantas Wallabies Head Coach Ewen McKenzie about his program.
ARU: What was your motive for pursuing this idea?
Ewen: This idea being that in our planning and in the way that the Wallabies function we do a lot of preparation leading into Test matches, but we feel as though there is a lot of opportunity to engage more with stakeholders during that process. There is a limited window of opportunity in terms of scheduling, but it is a very important aspect of the Wallabies, and the ARU that we actually engage with our fan-base and that our fan-base engages with us by attending matches. So, this is a great opportunity on many levels to take the team out to regional areas.
We are hoping to not just do it once, but as part of an ongoing initiative in subsequent years. I have put some plans in around that. This is the first step in following four or five month of planning, and it’s pleasing we are now in a position to announce it.
ARU: How did the idea originate?
Ewen: When I was looking forward to this season and we started working on the team’s program late last year, we also looked at how to improve the business and looking at all of the opportunities to engage our fans.
It was an idea I had and then it was a matter of looking at the calendar finding a window of opportunity leading into the Bledisloe Cup. We decided it would be a good initiative and something we would propose to the Board prior to Christmas and then obviously spent the time engaging the different parts of the business; community, commercial, operations, and strategically worked out ways we would be able to maximise the opportunity by going out there.
ARU: How did you decide on the towns?
Ewen: We didn’t have the opportunity this time around to go out to tender, but we knew we had to be in Sydney for the Bledisloe Cup week for the preparations leading into the match, and obviously the Bledisloe Cup Festival. After looking at that we consulted with NSW Rugby and their development team to look at the best pathways. I had some ideas in my head and it isn’t too far removed from what I thought. But in the end, after discussions with the people who actually work in that space, we settled on the four towns.
If you look at the number of weeks you have where there isn’t a Test match at the end of it, it is limited. This presented as the perfect scenario leading into the Bledisloe Cup week coming off Super Rugby that we could do something a bit different.
It is important that the fans see that we are open and available. One of my concerns as a former player and watching Test matches over the years is the limited number of chances that fans, in particular kids, the ones who play and aspire to be the next group of Wallabies, how much of a chance they have to meet the players. I’m also aware of the extensive fan base that we have in the country, so those two things together made it an obvious opportunity.
ARU: Will you go to other states in future years?
Ewen: I have some a very strong thought as to how it will go but that is obviously a way away. We will run this one and go from there. But with the amount of excitement and enthusiasm it has generated within NSW and the ARU this week, I’m pretty sure everyone believes it will have a positive outcome. It has been well received from the people we have dealt with in the country towns. I expect it to be a successful week and from the learnings we will take from this year we will go ahead and make it an annual event. That is the plan for sure.