Dave Rennie says getting fitter is a “non-negotiable” priority for the Wallabies if they are to go toe-to-toe with the All Blacks and win the Bledisloe Cup after 18 long years.
On a whistle-stop tour from Scotland, the new Wallabies coach did press conference duties for the first time since being appointed as Michael Cheika’s successor in December last year.
Rennie will officially move to Australia in June after finishing up his current club duties with Glasgow but he is already armed with strong opinions and a firm vision about how to best to take the Wallabies - and Aussie rugby - forward after a disappointing few years.
Rennie wasted little time in setting out a new tactical direction from the all-out attack that was the trademark of Cheika’s Wallabies, saying he believed in striking a balance between running and “tactical kicking” manipulate defences.
The Kiwi also said the talent coming through the promising junior ranks in Australia needed to be “accelerated” and that he will observe in the good-enough, old-enough approach to selecting rookies if they earn it in Super Rugby.
And with the Giteau Law under review, Rennie said it would damaging to follow in South Africa’s footsteps in 2019 and pick carte blanche from overseas.
While stopping short of saying he wouldn’t pick currently eligible players from overseas, Rennie flagged a potential shift in thinking on the Giteau Law, however, by saying he would be be happier picking players from overseas if they had agreed to come home to Australia long term “as opposed to picking players with x amount of caps”.
"My preference would be to pick from what we have got here," he said.
BEATING NEW ZEALAND - STEP ONE
From a long period of time as a coach within the New Zealand system - and as the man who guided the Chiefs to Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013 - Rennie knows the size of the mountain Australia has to scale to win back the Bledisloe Cup.
Beating New Zealand will require a thousand things done right but if priority no.1 - getting extremely fit - isn’t done right, then all the rest will mean nothing.
"There are lots of things technically and tactically, and we will have to be strong in our skill sets and so on. But what we know is the Kiwi sides are really well conditioned, so they get to pick the cream of the crop out of that,” Rennie said.
"And to compete with them and go toe-to-toe, we have to be really fit and really well conditioned, powerful and explosive. So that needs to be a focus for us.
"We can put a lot of time and emphasis around skill sets but if our conditioning falls away at a crucial moment, in defence or in attack, you finish second.
"So there are a lots of things we will be working on but I think it is a non-negotiable.”
KICKING FOR EFFECT
After an era under Michael Cheika where the Wallabies kicked a lot less than most Test rivals - and became an unsuccessful outlier at the 2019 Rugby World Cup by barely kicking at all - there were many calls for Australia to re-calibrate the ‘Aussie way’.
Rennie said he is a believer that smart kicking was as much a necessity in the modern game as ball-in-hand attack, and he would pick players with the skill to do both.
"There has been a lot made of the fact they didn’t kick a lot in the World Cup. But like I say, you just have to have a balance to your attack,” Rennie said.
"If you never kick, the opposition can just put 14 in the front line and it’s hard to run around them. So you have to shape the D.
"If you kick smart, they’re going to have to put someone else in the backfield and it creates space elsewhere.
"In the end you have to play the conditions.
"We want to kick smart, so there is a real balance to the game I think. Still want to play territory and apply pressure, and we still want to play what is in front of us and if it’s on to play, we want to play.
"We need players with the skill set to do both.
"At times you have to brave. But I think kicking to tactically shape defences, if they’re narrow you can kick one to a winger, if they’re up high you can drill the thing long, and so on and so on."
AUSTRALIA’S ROOKIE REVOLUTION
With Rugby Australia setting out the promotional hashtag of #StandUp for the 2020 Super Rugby season, and chief executive Raelene Castle mentioned several times the influx of exciting talent coming through the Australian teams from the successful Junior Wallabies ranks.
There is a danger for the youngsters to be placed under premature pressure but Rennie didn’t seek to pour cold water on the expectation, saying “if they’re good enough they’re old enough.”
Rennie coached the New Zealand under 20s to three world titles a decade ago.
"There are some really good kids coming through in this country,” he said.
"The under 18s beat New Zealand and the 20s went within a whisker of winning a World title. So we have to accelerate that and I think there are good systems in place now, the academy system, with Jason Gilmore at the top of that.
"So we can identify these kids and accelerate them.
"Some of them will feature in Super Rugby and hopefully they get plenty of opportunities to learn and grow, and then we will make decisions later in the year. If some young fellas have big seasons, who knows?”
GITEAU LAW SHIFT
The Giteau Law is under review at Rugby Australia, and while most people have seen that as whether the 60-cap, seven-year threshold may be reduced to capture the likes of Rory Arnold and Will Skelton, Rennie indicated he would not be a fan, and certainly doesn’t support following in the footsteps of South Africa and scrapping it altogether.
Rennie appears to be a bigger fan of emphasising the second part of the Giteau Law eligibility dispensation, which allows the Wallabies to pick players who have agreed to return from overseas and signed with a Super Rugby club for the following two seasons. This is the pathway taken by Dean Mumm, Kane Douglas, Matt Toomua and Nic White.
"Anyone who is overseas is going to have to commit back to Australia long-term as opposed to plucking them out because they have played x amount of Tests,” Rennie said.
"There are a couple of other guys on the radar that I won’t mention now who are keen to get back here.
"But for us to have control of their development and conditioning and so on, they really have to be back here.
"As we know there are a lot of guys playing in France, that’s a different game, and it’s really tough to come straight out of France and into Test footy.”
Asked for his view on whether the Giteau Law sits at the right level, Rennie said: "Obviously it is being reviewed and we will have a chat about that. Johnno (Scott Johnson) and I have had a brief discussion. I really think it is important that we try and keep guys in this country.
"Ultimately we have to look well ahead to a World Cup but we have to win Tests now, too. So there will be a bit of a balance.”
Rennie said having no limits on picking players from overseas, such as the Springboks applied in 2019, would not work well for Australia.
"I don’t think its great for Australian rugby if we brought that many guys back from overseas. What it will do is encourage more players to go over and chase money, knowing they can still be a Wallaby,” he said.
"It is a concerning trend. For me, I think it is going to have an impact on domestic footy in South Africa but they won a World Cup. So I guess there are arguments both ways. My preference would be to pick from what we have got here.”