The man charged with creating a new Wallabies game plan they can implement successfully says there have already been some selection disagreements but that Australia will play with “clarity” when they eventually take to the paddock later this year.
Scott Wisemantel returned to Australia to be a part of Dave Rennie’s new coaching team, the Aussie having completed a successful stint as England’s attack coach, albeit one that fell a victory short of rugby’s ultimate prize.
It was his third stint working alongside Jones, having previously been a part of the Wallabies set up between 2004 and 2007, and then as part of Japan’s staff at the 2015 World Cup where the Brave Blossoms famously defeated the Springboks.
And if there’s one thing Wisemantel has taken from his time with Jones, particularly over the last two years, it is the need for a clear approach that ever player buys into.
That should go over well with Wallabies fans following some of the revelations that have come out since Michael Cheika’s departure after last year’s World Cup.
“With clarity comes confidence,” Wisemantel told ESPN. “So a really clear way that we want to play and then getting players to believe in it…that’s the building blocks of everything.”
Understanding exactly how they’re trying to play, and finding a balanced approach to do so, has been a focal point of Rennie’s mantra since he first accepted the job late last year.
He is also seen as a more level-headed coach than Cheika, someone who gets the best out of his players, particularly those just starting out in their professional careers.
The other key insight into the Wallabies preparations, which had until recently been limited to Zoom calls where the new brains trust would select their Players of National Interest [PONI] squads, was that the coaching staff had already been challenging each other on players who they thought were or were not in form.
In an interview earlier this year, former Wallabies selector Michael O’Connor revealed that Cheika “more or less got what he wanted” at the selection table despite what was supposed to a three-man selection panel.
Still, it seems Rennie, Wisemantel and defensive coach Matt Taylor are certainly prepared to hear each other out.
“Rens has been great, so too has Matty Taylor,” Wisemantel told ESPN. “We’ve flushed out a heap of things, and we’re at the stage now where we’re not afraid to call each out on where we agree or disagree.
“So it’s healthy, it’s a healthy environment where you can debate every aspect of the model we’re trying to play.”
Rennie will name his first Wallabies squad following the conclusion of Super Rugby AU, which has its final round this weekend, followed by a two-week finals series.
There has been much debate around whether the Wallabies should take a clean slate approach and blood as many young players as possible with an eye on the 2023 and 2027 World Cups, or instead focus solely on the immediate future by utilizing the established Test stars who have stayed on following the quarterfinal exit in Japan last year.
“You’re obviously going to have some change [in personnel] there because a lot of those players have either left or are doing other things since that last World Cup, and you’ve got these young guys knocking on the door. So we’re going to have some selection issues, that’s a good thing,” Wisemantel said.
“But the real thing is probably the way we train and how we train, so the intensity we train at and finding a way [to play] that suits Australian footy; something that’s a balance between your running game, your kicking game, your defensive game; there’s got to be a balance.
“We’ve got to pick the best players that we can do to do the job against, say New Zealand in the short term, and then it’s up to us to put some structure around it.”
The creation of Super Rugby AU, brought about as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, has allowed some of Australia’s best young talent to develop without the expectation of results against New Zealand’s Super teams hanging over their heads.
It has resulted in a number of uncapped players having genuine claims to not just be included in an extended Wallabies squad, but to actually start a Bledisloe Cup Test which at this stage is earmarked for Oct. 11.
Admitting he had been impressed by Will Harrison, Bayley Kuenzle, James Ramm, Noah Lolesio, Harry Wilson and others, Wisemantel also suggested some other less heralded players were tracking in the right direction.
“[Australia’s talented crop of 2019 Under 20s] are the obvious ones on the radar that are developing, but there’s another layer under them, so those young kids that have fought their way through either academies or off the bench to get their chance.
“So you look at [Len] Ikitau down there at the Brums, young Joey Walton at the Tahs; Brad Wilkin down at the Rebels and Feleti Kaitu’u at the Force; Tommy Horton [Waratahs] is another one; all those blokes, they underpin the obvious guys, those players who are really starting to shine now. So there’s a fair bit of depth there, which is good.”
Just what form the Wallabies take will be revealed in the coming months, but there is always hope – if not excitement – at the start of a new era. Whether that new era is confined to just the Bledisloe Cup or also includes a Rugby Championship will determine how many Tests Rennie, Wisemantel and co. have to set about implementing the team’s new style.
But no matter the number of Tests that Australia gets to play, Wisemantel said there would be no mistaking who the Wallabies are right from the outset.
“We’d just like to put performances together that we can be proud of, where you can see what we stand for; that we’ve got a professional head but an amateur heart.
“We do our homework and we know what we’re doing, but we play with our heart as the amateur roots, the club values, wherever they’ve come from, you never want to forget those values. You want to be a good bugger, look after each other, those types of things. And Dave’s really big on that, really big, he’ll drive our culture there. So that’s probably the easiest way to describe it.”