Rennie at the ready: New Wallabies coach opens up on priorities, plans and secret talents

International
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

A hard-working and passionate coach, a keen golfer and a man who strums a guitar to unwind after matches.

Meet new Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.

Rennie has spent the past two seasons with Scotland side Glasgow, taking them to a Pro14 final and Champions Cup quarter-final, and will complete the final season of a three-year contract before moving to Australia.

Away from the field, Rennie tries to find time to play rounds of golf, travel and sometimes even pulls out the guitar to strum a strong from an extensive repertoire.

The new Wallabies mentor spoke to Australian media on Thursday, for the first time since his appointment was confirmed, opening up about a range of issues from what he does in his down time to his thoughts on selecting overseas-based players.

RUGBY AUSTRALIA WINS "SIGNIFICANT FIGHT" FOR RENNIE'S SERVICES

WISEMANTEL, TAYLOR ON ASSISTANT WISH LIST

STAFF THE FIRST PRIORITY

Dave Rennie was assisted by Wayne Smith in his time at the Chiefs. Photo: Getty ImagesRennie’s first order of business will be overseeing the selection of his assistant coaches, people he said he wants to be the type of characters that “roll their sleeves up”.

“Obviously I've been doing a lot of the work around that, I've been talking a lot to (Rugby Australia director of rugby) Scott Johnson, there's been a review process happening and there's going to be a little bit of change there but in that group we need massive work ethic, we need innovation, we need people who are going to roll their sleeves up and so on,” he said.

“I want a group that will challenge each other, challenge me to get the best out of our players.

“So, getting the right people in place is paramount initially and obviously, the relationship stuff - Super Rugby teams are crucially important.

“I've always surrounded myself with people who will challenge. I think we've got to have that in our environment whether it's, we're certainly going to poke players in the chest and we expect the same back and so I don't want yes men in our group.

“That's important, we've got to have a mind of developing coaches and creating opportunities and so on.

‘We've certainly got some names that will be clarified over the coming weeks.”

CULTURE CRUCIAL TO PHILOSOPHY

Dave Rennie works to bring his teams together. Photo: Getty ImagesRennie won't be on the ground until July but he has a clear view of the philosophy he wants to bring to his new role before then.

A commitment to developing a certain culture, but also embracing the local culture, has been the foundation of his coaching philosophy at the Chiefs and in Glasgow and he said that would be the key to trying to turn things around for the Wallabies.

“It's a bit of crystal ball gazing at the moment but I think wherever I've gone, I think culture is crucially important again,” he said.

“It's, when you look at professional sport and you look at all over the world, there's a lot of emphasis on skill sets and the training and so on, maybe less emphasis on connecting and community and what I've found's really important is that players understand who they are and who they represent and so that means we need that genuine connection with our people, I reckon it helps us play better on Saturdays.”

Rennie said he saw some similarities between the Wallabies’ current state and that of the Chiefs when he took over in 2012, after some of their biggest names had moved on.

“When I went to the Chiefs, there was a heap of very experienced players who left and went off shore, that actually encouraged me to apply for the job because I felt it was going to be easier to change the culture with the chance to bring in some fresh blood and some good young kids,” he said.

“I see it similarly here, there's no doubt it's going to take a lot of work and I've got a lot of learning to do in terms of the quality of the players that are there and the shifts we'll need to make but I've got a really strong work ethic and I'll surround myself with people who are like minded.”

Dave Rennie speaks to a fan at a Chiefs game. Photo: Getty ImagesOne of his biggest challenges joining the Wallabies ranks may be winning over Australian fans, being a Kiwi at the helm of the national team.

It’s a hurdle about which he has been open since being appointed but Rennie said his commitment to not only establishing a certain culture but also embracing some of that which already exists.

“I'm a rugby nut, I love watching rugby, I love going down and watching club footy and watching high schools play and so on,” he said.

“If we play a Friday night here, I'll always pop down to the local club on Saturday because we'll have two or three of our boys playing in that sort of game...I think you've got to have a really strong connection with the rugby public as well as anything else.

“That's going to be difficult for me prior to the international window this year but I certainly look forward to doing plenty of that once I'm there full-time.”

Rennie also knows Australian fans give coaches little margin for error, and they'll be expecting quick success.

"The Australian public expects the results and they'll probably expect it immediately," he said.

"I don't want to give the players any excuses that we're building and all that sort of stuff so the expectation is that we're going to work really hard, we're going out to win footy.

"I just feel if you use excuses, you're giving players an out to maybe under-perform so I guess like the Aussie public, we'll all be thinking the same thing, we'll be desperate to perform well and keep building on that."

THE OTHER SIDE OF RENNIE

Culture isn't just something Rennie wants to create on the pitch - he is proud of developing strong relationships off it.

Often after away games, Rennie sits with his players and pulls out a guitar to pass around, displaying an extensive repertoire of tunes.

“I've always loved music - I'm from a very musical family so I play a bit of guitar and so on,” he said.

“As a young fella, I'm the youngest in our family and my brother and sister would drag me along to a party so I could play so everyone else could drink.

“We've got a lot of guitar players in our team here so whenever we're away from home, we got back to the hotel , have a quiet drink and the guitar will come out and we'll pass it around.”

When he's not around a rugby club, Rennie looks to try and squeeze in a round of golf or travel Europe with his wife, Steph.

LESSONS FROM GLASGOW

Dave Rennie coached the Chiefs to two consecutive titles in 2012 and 2013. Photo: Getty ImagesRennie has been in Scotland since the 2017-18 season, his first taste of Northern Hemisphere coaching, and he said it had taught him about the value of patience in rugby.

"It's a slightly different game up here which has been good for me," he said.

"It's more defence-minded, they defend differently, there's a lot of line speed, there's a lot of contact in the game up here. From an attack perspective, you've got teams that are prepared to go 30-35 phases to score, where as maybe from a Super Rugby perspective, it's a bit more higher risk, higher speed, high skill and probably see a few more turnovers and so on.

"So, the value of patience, of building pressure but also dealing with different defence systems and so on has been really good. We play in some challenging conditions which is what you're going to face when you come up this way at various times in the year. I think the quality of rugby up here would surprise a lot of people in the Southern Hemisphere."

WALLABIES SELECTIONS

Samu Kerevi is one of a number of players who have headed offshore. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmlseyRennie will have a host of selection issues to debate when he takes over the Wallabies' reins, from positional to the bigger picture of the merits of the "Giteau Law"

A number of experienced Australian players have headed offshore since the World Cup, effectively ending their Wallabies hopes for the time being.

An independent review of the Wallabies season will include the effectiveness of the Giteau Law but Rennie, it seems, is not overly keen on the idea of bringing overseas-based players into the fold.

“It's a big question isn't it because the advantage of having guys playing Super Rugby means that we've got access to them, we've got influence and obviously picking players from overseas, maybe it works alright in a World Cup year but it's difficult to have influence,” he said.

“If I compared, say we're looking at a prop who's playing in France - we want him to be athletic, skillful because of the game we're going to play as well as scrum well - his French club doesn't care whether he can catch or pass, they just want him to scrummage.

“Maybe he's not conditioned well, you're going to get him back with a week to turn him around to play international footy which is difficult so it'll be the old case where maybe it's possible but best case scenario is that we're going to try and develop guys within Australia and promote them and try and build experience that way.”

When it comes to leadership, Rennie said he had not given any thought to whether incumbent Michael Hooper should continue in that role or if he should pass the torch.

"I've had no thoughts around captaincy at this stage, I haven't even spoken to Michael so that will probably be something I want to do," he said.

"I'm keen to, I know the review's been pretty extensive and I was talking to, been talking to Johnno a lot over the last four weeks just to get some extra feedback around what's worked and what hasn't worked over the past four years and so on."

DEVELOPING AUSTRALIAN TALENT

Rennie was impressed by the Junior Wallabies. Photo: Getty ImagesRennie began his top level coaching career with the New Zealand U20s, taking their team to three consecutive titles in 2008-10.

The new Wallabies mentor was an interested onlooker when the Junior Wallabies played France in this year’s World Rugby U20s final and said he was also heartened by Australia’s schoolboys and U18s win over New Zealand.

“It was great to see the U20s side do so well at the World Cup last year, I watched that game and really Aussie probably did enough to win that,” he said.

“The 18s beating the Kiwis this year, so there's good kids coming through the system and we want to progress that. I'm excited by that - I've always thought that Australian teams have good skill sets and athleticism, as much as Kiwi sides have, so that'll be our challenge I guess.”

Johnson said on Wednesday about the need to sign the next generation of talent into rugby early and Rennie echoed that, emphasising the need to be "aggressive".

"What I know about Australian rugby - there are lots of good kids," he said.

"So, the key thing is identification, got to create relationships with them early so when they're making decisions when they're leaving school they want to be involved in our game.

"I think the talent ID stuff is massive for us and we've got to be aggressive and again like we've talked about provide opportunities for them to come through quickly. "