Along with its habit of sucking remorselessly on the federal fiscal teat, Darwin may soon have another sin to answer for if my worst fears are confirmed. The Wallabies’ new coach John “Knuckles” Connolly began his coaching career just across the creek from where I’m writing this post.
I don’t share the generally positive media reactions to Connolly’s appointment. I’m in Phil Kearns’ camp. When asked what he thought of Connolly, the former great Wallaby hooker said:
“My mother taught me if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
My mother used to say exactly the same thing, but it never stopped her from verbally knifing someone with her very next breath, and it isn’t going to stop me now.
Connolly is a bone-headed troglodyte who knows how to churn out a tough, no-nonsense forward pack, but has shown no sign that he has the faintest idea how to coach a modern international rugby team. At least judging by his Australian coaching record, Connolly is a latter-day exponent of the 10 man rugby style for which Dave Brockhoff became notorious at Sydney University back in my own short-lived, mediocre heyday as a grade rugby player in the 70s. In those days, Uni outside backs used to fantasise longingly that their legendary fly-half Rupert Rosenblum might be in a car accident on the way to the ground and break his kicking leg. It was the only way any of them were ever going to see the ball at close quarters more than once or twice a game.
As this article in the New Zealand Herald observes:
Connolly made his name as the no-nonsense and highly successful coach of the Reds over 12 seasons, which included two Super 10 titles and two Super 12 minor premierships.
But he was dumped in 2000 amid criticism of the Reds’ dour, forward-oriented playing style and the belief Queensland under-achieved with a playing roster that included the likes of John Eales and Tim Horan.
Of course, it’s conceivable that Knuckles has actually learnt something since then, during his recent stints at Stade Francais and the English club Bath. I have no first-hand knowledge of his performances at either club. But a quick glance at the Bath Rugby Club supporters’ discussion forum hardly gives cause for optimism. Here are a few selected comments from when the news first broke that Knuckles (and probably his protege and current Bath forwards coach Michael Foley as well) would be going to the Wallabies:
At least we know the Wallabies won’t be throwing the ball out wide in the next world cup…
Yep reckon it is good for us in the Northern Hemisphere if they take over as it will be all pack and no back game!!
I’d rather MF didn’t go, but I suspect it is really just a formality now.
Can’t believe though that Oz went for JC2, seems all of the super 12/14 coaches all counted themselves out, leaving JC2 as the only option left.
Looking forward to the world cup now, if he coaches internationally as he did at club level, Oz aren’t going to be ripping sides apart with exciting back play!!
One less country to worry about.
Quite. You really do have to wonder how Connolly ever got the nod to succeed Eddie Jones. Talk about frying pans and fires. I wonder whether some of the ARU tweed jacket chappies are simply trying to make belated amends for passing over Knuckles for Wallaby coach in favour of Greg Smith back in the mid 90s. Smith was certainly a major disaster, but at least his bizarre selection and other decisions were explicable by the fact that he was unknowingly suffering the early stages of an ultimately fatal brain tumour. It’s an excuse Eddie Jones can’t trot out.
But the fact that appointing Smith was an error doesn’t mean they should have appointed Knuckles. One can only assume that some of the more perspicacious ARU types and their advisers (Rod McQueen, for instance), must be hoping that mooted backs coach Scott Johnson will be able work some magic and counteract Knuckles’ dour, forward-based coaching style. Johnson has been a big part of the amazing resurgence of Welsh rugby over the last 2 or 3 years. But Johnson can’t have any influence if the outside backs seldom see the ball. As Wayne Smith mused in the Oz:
Connolly has refused to discuss what remedies he has in mind for the Wallabies – at least until his appointment was confirmed by the ARU – but it is safe to assume he will go back to the basics that served him so well during his title-winning stints with Queensland, Stade Francais and Bath.
Like Jones, who said he would have made the set pieces his primary focus had he been retained as national coach, Connolly will make a priority of the scrum and lineout. …
Under Connolly, the kicking stat is certain to change, and probably dramatically. There is no doubt he will place far greater emphasis on kicking for field position than did Jones.
I certainly can’t argue that tightly-drilled 10 man rugby isn’t effective. England managed to fluke the last World Cup using just that strategy, albeit with the help of a fly-half kicking wizard we simply don’t possess. And South Africa have reached number 3 or 4 in the world wih a similar grinding, forward-based approach.
I doubt that it’s possible to do any better than that with a Brockhoff/Connolly strategy. Other teams now have effective counters for the approach that won England the World Cup under Clive Woodward (although I note the Poms managed to flog Wales a couple of days ago). The All Blacks remain the gold standard against which other international rugby teams are judged. Sure they have a powerful, uncompromising forward pack. But they also have outside backs every bit as exciting and capable as Australia’s and they’re prepared to bring them into play from anywhere on the field, albeit much more judiciously than the Wallabies managed under Eddie Jones. At least Eddie knew Australia couldn’t win the World Cup by copying Clive Woodward, he just didn’t have a clue how to successfully emulate New Zealand. As far as I can see, Knuckles appears to know even less. I just hope I’m wrong.