Dan McKellar: Can he become a twice-in-40-years-exception?

Tue, 08/06/2021, 06:31 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker
The Chiefs and Rebels travelled to Leichhardt Oval to close out round four.

Only one assistant coach for the Wallabies in 40 years has actually gone on to become head coach of the national team.

Over the past decade, the only two head coaches of the All Blacks, Steve Hansen and Ian Foster, have risen from within after apprenticeships as assistants.

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You’d all agree that’s a striking difference.

Dan McKellar’s rise to forwards coach at the Wallabies is an excellent and timely decision to advance the Brumbies’ head coach.

It should be the start of an invaluable education in international rugby that leads to something more.

That’s where Australian rugby has to have the courage to see a long game here.

Many times over, assistant coaches are selected to be just that, assistant coaches who aren’t ever being groomed for the top job.

Sometimes fair enough. Head coaches don't want their closest rival for the job working next to them. 

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Former Wallabies assistant coaches like Alex Evans, Scott Johnson and Tim Lane actually had to go abroad for the chance to be head coach of a national team.

It is a travesty of a different kind that none of that trio ever got the chance to even coach a state or Super Rugby side in Australia.  

McKellar’s role is to be forwards coach beside Wallabies boss Dave Rennie.

Even Rennie, as a Kiwi, would accept that the invisible sub-text of his job description is to do such a good job in 2021-22-23 that he makes himself obsolete for 2024 when an Aussie takes over.

The more grooming from a top operator like Rennie in that process the better.  

OK, go back 40 years to when Bob Templeton was Wallabies coach.

He was a rarity because he became a valued assistant coach AFTER he held the top job.

He was a trusted advisor and coaching ally for Bob Dwyer when the 1991 Rugby World Cup was won.

Dwyer, Alan Jones, Greg Smith, Rod Macqueen, Eddie Jones, John Connolly, Robbie Deans, Ewen McKenzie, Michael Cheika and Rennie have been the run of coaches.

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Jones coached Australia A to a superb upset of the British and Irish Lions in Gosford in 2001 a short time before taking over as Wallabies boss when Macqueen decided to step down after a decorated run.

The new head man had been identified by Rugby Australia although not serving as an assistant.

Only McKenzie served any time as an assistant Wallabies coach before getting a crack at the top job himself.

He served in the role under Jones and Macqueen but it was almost a decade before his moment for the top job arrived in 2013-14.

There were years well served in between with success at both the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds plus a taste abroad as coach of French club Stade Francais.


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The point of this is just to underline the big question...what does Rugby Australia desire in Dan McKellar?

The answer looks clearly to be the preparation of a contender for Wallabies head coach one day.

You can’t be sure though. Australian rugby’s ad hoc treatment of leading coaches and their pathways has been one of the biggest failures within the system for years.

McKellar will learn beside Rennie through big Test challenges against the French in July, the All Blacks, South Africa and Argentina.

He’ll return to the quality Brumbies set-up after that for a full-on tilt at the 2022 Super Rugby season.

This looks like excellent up-skilling for a very good and well-rounded coach. Let’s sit back and see if the process can stay on course.

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