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Thread: Did somebody say "ego"?

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    Did somebody say "ego"?

    Way off the Mark

    John Connolly | October 21, 2007

    Unbalanced criticism is difficult to take and as a coach you normally sit there and just let it go through to the keeper. But I was particularly dismayed by the criticism during the week from Mark Ella, who launched an attack on assistant coaches Scott Johnson, Michael Foley and John Muggleton.

    A former Australian captain said to me not so long ago that Mark retired from the game 23 years ago and has criticised it ever since. I have my own views about why he does it, but those are not for this column. Just looking at Mark's own career, he should understand the problems of being a Test rugby player more than most.

    Mark played 25 Tests and won just 13 - a strike rate of just above 50 per cent. Reports at the time had him retiring from the game for two reasons - because it was very tough and because he was having problems with the coach.

    In Mark's era, Australia scored 18.5 points a Test - in the Wallabies' last 25 Tests, our average has been more than 34 points. The only difference now is that tries are now worth five rather than four points, but in Mark's era they averaged only two tries per game. The argument will be made that today's players are professionals rather than amateurs.

    Mark has given modern rugby a blast but the ball is in play twice as long as it used to be. I think that has made it a far better game.

    On Mark's criticism of the three coaches, I believe they are all genuinely world-class. Scott Johnson proved overseas with Wales that he's an outstanding coach. Michael Foley would have to be one of the better forwards coaches in world rugby and has made a significant difference to the Wallabies forwards. John Muggleton's defensive record for Australia puts him at the cutting edge in the business. So it's very disappointing to have former players like Mark turn on current Wallabies stars and coaches the way he has.

    Mark has come out and said that too much money is thrown at the top-end players, that their wages are outrageous. There's no doubt these players get paid well, but to keep them in Australia we need to pay them on par with what they can earn in England and France. Wallabies players always prefer to play at home and for their country. They are passionate about playing for their country - it's not about money.

    Mark claimed Australian rugby is in the doldrums and that there are too many personalities that are in it for themselves. I couldn't disagree more. I have been in the game for 20 years and 99.9 per cent of our rugby players and supporters are amateurs who are in it purely for the love of the game. The Wallabies squad this year was based on putting the team first and, in my experiences with them, they are a totally selfless group of guys.

    Mark also mentioned that the players were allowed to run the game. Most modern coaches believe it's best to work with the players to get a result. The players have to buy in and successful teams do that.

    Selections have also been under fire from Mark. A coach or national selector has to be confident of one thing first - when they put a player onto the field they need to be confident they'll perform. We have all taken decisions where we're happy to take one step back to go two steps forward.

    Sometimes I wonder if the critics have a full comprehension about where we are in world rugby. In Europe, they compete with soccer. In New Zealand and South Africa, it's their national game. We've managed to stay ahead of the pack off a smaller base because we've been smarter, but it's becoming harder. Every country's coaches and academies are of the highest order.

    Our coaching staff have done an outstanding job in nurturing young talent and providing a strong senior playing group over the past two years. This year we have won 75 per cent of our games, compared to 38 per cent in 2005. We are all bitterly disappointed the quarter-finals were the end of the road for the Wallabies at the World Cup. But when we compare us to New Zealand, who have lost two games this year - we have lost just three - and the Springboks could win the World Cup on the back of two losses - we were right in the frame. It's extremely hard to continue to develop the game when hand grenades are thrown across the wall by different factions.

    We don't see this in the AFL, where former players promote their game strongly. The promotion of rugby league is also outstanding. I would suggest that Johnson, Foley, Muggleton and the whole Wallabies staff deserve support for what they've done.

    I learned a valuable lesson in the first few months as a Wallabies coach when we beat South Africa 49-0. It was one of the Springboks' worst ever defeats, but when our players didn't get the recognition they deserved I realised how tough it was going to be.

    After the Tri Nations, Australia's expectations were very high for the World Cup. Consequently, the disappointment felt by all was very deep. We saw the depth of feeling of the Australian players on the field in the injured Stephen Larkham and that mirrored everyone's feeling from the dressing room.

    It's a fickle game we play. If Stirling Mortlock's kick went two feet to the right of the post instead of two feet to the left, Australia, despite playing badly, squeak through. Had Larkham's kick in 1999 gone to the right of the posts we would have been out in a semi-final. We saw Rob Andrews finish Australia's hopes in 1995.

    There's no doubt our scrum suffered badly at the hands of probably the best scrum in the world, but the biggest issue of concern was that we got belted at the breakdown. We knew the problem, we spoke about it beforehand and we spoke about it at half-time.

    There was a lot of talk about how the occasion got to some players and that England's experience won out. That could well be true. We had five players in their first or second year of Test rugby and history shows World Cups are won on the back of experience. The good news for Australia is almost the whole forward pack will be available for the next World Cup.

    I have no doubt that over the next few years this Wallabies team will keep improving. Constructive, balanced criticism and an understanding of the world game is what is needed.

    Source: The Sun-Herald

    Three wise men really must go

    By Mark Ella
    Australia legend
    October 27, 2007


    FORMER Australia coach John Connolly has every right to question my stance on why his assistant coaches Scott Johnson, Michael Foley and John Muggleton shouldn't be considered for his now vacant position.

    Perhaps I should have explained myself more clearly, which I am happy to do right now.

    Everyone in Australian rugby knows that Connolly was only a figurehead and that most of the coaching was done by his three assistants.

    Connolly fronted the masses and media and ultimately faced the music for a sub-standard Wallabies performance at this year's Rugby World Cup in France.

    If Connolly didn't really run the show then someone has to pay. In support of Connolly, perhaps he didn't have too many options when it came to putting together his coaching staff.

    After the Eddie Jones debacle, then Australian Rugby Union chief executive Gary Flowers had little choice but put together what he and his directors thought was the dream team in coaching terms. In reality, it was an assortment of personalities that didn't jell.

    Connolly, a conservative, old-fashioned coach, established a pleasant, even convivial atmosphere among the Wallabies, which was certainly a change after the intensity of Eddie Jones's tenure.

    But modern coaching is much more than that.

    Connolly was given Johnson, the odd-bod of rugby, who has a completely different approach to the game, and life, to anyone I have ever met. As a player, he was a difficult opponent because he used his tactical nous to keep him one step ahead of the opposition.

    When he coached Wales a few years ago, he did wonders and his achievements are still remembered by Welsh players and fans alike. His strength is getting into the minds of his players, almost becoming their full-time mentor.

    That skill served him well with Wales. But the Wallabies are a different set of players, many of whom have made a successful living out of rugby and don't need anyone to be warm and fuzzy with them on a daily basis.

    I always wondered how the personalities of Connolly and Johnson worked without conflict, considering Connolly is an advocate of 10-man rugby while Johnson is a free-flowing rugby spirit.

    Johnson was always committed to changing the way the backline played, with an emphasis on reducing the amount of on-field work of veteran five-eighth Stephen Larkham.

    There were those within the Wallabies camp who told me that Johnson was trying to get Larkham to play like me, which was a compliment that Connolly conveniently has forgotten, but it was obviously too late in Larkham's career.

    After two years of experimentation, nothing really happened - with the backline still dominated by Brumbies players who simply ran the show and failed, not for the first time, in big matches.

    Johnson therefore expanded his repertoire, particularly at training, by running the show, shouting instructions in every direction, allowing Connolly the chance to think about the meaning of life.

    He also worked hard trying to develop a style of play that created overlaps, but having so many intricate moves behind the advantage line with players running across field didn't work. Just ask Lote Tuqiri.

    Johnson is a good coach and potentially a great coach, but Australian rugby needs a change right through its ranks. After the next Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, he will be the perfect candidate for the top job.

    Forwards or restart coach Michael Foley is an interesting person, although I must admit I don't know him that well. He had the hardest task of getting the Wallabies scrum to be competitive again after years of becoming the laughing stock of world rugby.

    I would be the first to admit that even with my general knowledge of forward play that he has had reasonable success. Getting our forwards to scrummage well is a long-term project, not a two-year assignment.

    With Foley having played for Connolly in Queensland so many years ago, they would have been very close in their thinking, which can explain some of the boring tactics we have seen over the past couple of years.

    Like Connolly, he has coached extensively in the UK and would have known many of the England players, or at least their style of play, which makes it hard to imagine why he didn't commit more forwards to the breakdown during Australia's quarter-final loss in Marseille.

    The Wallabies were caught with their pants down, and Foley, like Johnson, is responsible for a totally unacceptable performance and therefore should face the consequences.

    Defence coach John Muggleton is the longest-serving member of the coaching staff. Over the years, the Wallabies' defence has proven impenetrable.

    From the outset, it was obvious that they based their success on defence, which is noble considering the closeness of the Rugby World Cup final matches, but there had to be more to it than just defence.

    Like all high-profile personalities, Muggo's ego needs constant caressing. But he was continually left out of dispatches, which brought him to the end of his tether when he walked out of the John Eales medal night after ARU president Paul McLean forgot to mention his contribution to the team.
    His commitment to defence by limiting the number of players to the breakdown against England also contributed to the loss, which shouldn't be passed over.

    Muggo was also peeved when he applied for the vacant Queensland coaching position and didn't get so much as a polite thanks but no thanks.

    He wants to be the next Wallabies coach, but so do Johnson and Foley, which would have made for interesting dinner conversation over the past months.

    The Wallabies' coaching set-up acts like divisional department heads thinking of their own numbers and statistics to promote their own agendas rather than the group as a whole.

    The entire Wallabies coaching staff would appear to have been completely dysfunctional.

    In terms of Connolly's reference to my playing stats of 27 years ago, when I played my first Test match for Australia, and why I retired from rugby in 1984 after the celebrated Grand Slam tour, I don't want to go there because it will achieve no satisfaction for either of us.

    But if Connolly himself is remembered with pride 27 years from now, then he will be a better coach than I have given him credit for.

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    Veteran Contributor frontrow's Avatar
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    Parry, thrust, touche'...Nice little war of words, i tend to agree with mark ella on this argument, but i can also understand jc's stance in defending his team, there will be no winners in this debate...

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    Champion Lonzy's Avatar
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    In the words of sky hooks ... ego is not a dirty word ... sorry first thing that came to mind!

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    "Believe in the best, think your best, study your best, have a goal for your best, never be satisfied with less than your best, try your best, and in the long run things will turn out for the best."

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    Senior Player Contributor hopep's Avatar
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    Sounds like JC, now out of the official role, has finally got to vent his spleen at a consistent critic. I tend to agree with Mark Ella, he always seemed interested in the games development - not a 'team' or 'individual' development.

    Connolys statement about the RWC and play at the breakdown lends the lie to his argument. "There's no doubt our scrum suffered badly at the hands of probably the best scrum (not sure I agree - did we play NZ or RSA?) in the world, but the biggest issue of concern was that we got belted at the breakdown. We knew the problem, we spoke about it beforehand and we spoke about it at half-time."

    We know you knew, we know you talked John - but like the scrum issue - what did you do as the coach/leader/mentor/visionary ??? Sod all. Most supporters have little issue with the players. I suspect we have a greater issue with coaching staff who seem to provide limited benefit.

    I'd back Ella as a coach or selector any day.

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    Immortal GIGS20's Avatar
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    Yep, as a matter of fact hopep, I'd probably back just about anyone who isn't going to just trot blithely down the party line and not put any effort into actually fixing rugby. Sure fixing the problems is going to get messy and probably a little bloody, but it needs doing or it won't be too long before Australia is the team missing the quarters.

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    C'mon the

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