Berne not looking to "reinvent rugby" in dream role with Wallabies

Rugby World Cup
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

Every Test match, the broadcast cameras pan through the 23 Wallabies players as they belt out Advance Australia Fair before the game, some for the first time and some for the 100th.

What the cameras don't often show, is the lineup of coaches and other staff on the sideline, some of whom are feeling just as fortunate to be among the international environment in their first outing.

For Wallabies attack coach Shaun Berne, his first match as an assistant was in Johannesburg against the Springboks and he said he couldn't help but shed a bit of a tear on his "Test debut".

The former Waratah never represented the Wallabies as a player, so for the 40-year-old, that South Africa match was his first time as part of a senior Test outfit.

“It almost feels like a dream come true,” he said.

“It didn’t feel real at first. 

Wallabies attack coach Shaun Berne at training in Melbourne ahead of this weekend's return Bledisloe clash. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley“Even though I had been speaking to Cheik along the way, once I actually got to be part of it that first Test was great. 

“I don’t think anyone noticed but I was a bit emotional that first time you sing the anthem. You’re so proud to be Australian and to get involved at Test match level is great.”

When Berne speaks about that experience and that of his first three months in the Wallabies setup, it's not hard to see why he was chosen to fill the Wallabies' attack coach void.

The human factor has long been a hallmark of Michael Cheika’s coaching philosophy, embracing different characters and personalities, and when Berne speaks about Australia and rugby, that comes through loud and clear,

“I grew up in Australia and I think that what makes Australia great is the people there, so you think about all your family and friends and also some loved ones that have moved on which having grown up in Australia you get that emotion come out of you through the anthem,” he said.

“There’s lots of different land around the world and we are a bit lucky with the environment we have in Australia with the temperature and everything, the lovely beaches and I get all that but it’s the people that make Australia great and that’s what I’m proud of.”

Though the gap between Stephen Larkham departing the Wallabies setup in February and Berne joining in July was the better part of five months, and he had some conversations between he and Cheika in the intervening months, he said part of him wasn’t quite expecting it to come to fruition.

“I’ve known Cheik from the past, there was a conversation with him but then also (Rugby Australia director of Rugby) Scott Johnson is involved now so talking to him,” he said.

“There wasn’t a long drawn-out process because I was coaching the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby at the time so it all happened pretty quickly at the end of the Rebels’ season. 

“I had conversations but I still didn’t feel like it was going to happen even though it did at the end.”

Berne’s association with Cheika goes back more than a decade, with Berne a former Randwick player and also a Leinster player under Cheika in 2009.

And 15 years on from their first meeting, Berne said little had changed about the Wallabies boss.

“He’s still Michael Cheika,” he said.

“He knows his strengths and weaknesses and I think he hasn’t changed for me in the 15 years I’ve known him which I think is one of his plus sides

“He’s good with trying to get the best out of people and I don’t think he’s changed too much.”

Shaun Berne at Wallabies training in Japan. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyAs for his on-field role, Berne was quick to lay praise on predecessor Stephen Larkham, saying much of what he has done since coming on board was adapting plans that already existed.

The Wallabies averaged 31.7 points in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, before averaging 21.9 points per Test in 20, 31.1 points in 2017 and 19.2 points in 2018.

In the five pre-World Cup Tests this year, the Wallabies have averaged 19.8 points for three wins and two losses.

“There was some god stuff in place already there, you’ve got good quality players there so I think we made some adjustments or tweaks to what was already there,” he said.

“There’s been a long build-up and I know that probably the reason I was here was like it all sporting environments you have peaks and troughs and there had been a couple of lean years there but I’ve said it before, Stephen Larkham is a good coach and so some of the things I had to come in and tweak - I am still using some of his plays.

 

That’s not to say we haven’t brought in new plays that’s to say there hasn’t been a great deal for me to do especially with the quality that is in the room...You’re not asking a guy to come into an environment like this and reinvent rugby you’re asking him to look at what he sees and make some small adjustments.”

Wallabies halfback and one of Berne's Rebels charges, Will Genia, said Berne was doing more than just adapting Larkham's plans.

“He’s had a big say in how we’re playing,” Genia said.

“He doesn’t want to pump himself up. 

“He’s been very good. It’s essentially his style along with Cheik and the other coaches but he has been exceptional and very good.”

Australia take on Fiji on Saturday September 21 at the Sapporo Dome, kicking off at 1:45pm local, 2;45pm AEST, LIVE on Foxtel, Network Ten and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO.