'I don't think about not getting Ireland job', says Aussie coach
Ewen McKenzie insists he has no regrets about not succeeding Kidney
Published 12/11/2013 | 01:00
Strange to think that the genial Aussie standing before us could be wearing an Irish tracksuit this week and not the uniform of his beloved Wallabies. Sorry, Qantas Wallabies.
Having plotted a World Cup success as a player in this country all of 22 years ago, rugby coaching's rollercoaster ride could so easily have landed Ewen McKenzie back here for a far more substantial stint.
But, while the erstwhile prop managed to reach the interview stage in the succession stakes following Declan Kidney's springtime departure, he has no regrets as he prepares this week to beat Ireland after missing the chance to join them.
"There are lots of scenarios in rugby; could-haves and would-haves," says McKenzie, who was assistant to Eddie Jones when the Wallabies lost the 2003 World Cup decider against England.
"Life works out how it's meant to. I don't sit around and dwell on these things. You just move on and work through it. You have to make your own decisions.
"I don't spend any time thinking about it. I enquired about things – I enquire about a lot of things nobody would ever know it. It just happens we're talking about this scenario now. It is what it is."
Having declared in February his intentions to check out of his Queensland Reds gig, the smart money Down Under was on the Wallabies from a distance out. But, had the Lions series swung the other way, it would still be Robbie Deans standing before us now.
Kidney's stinking set of results evicted him from his post first, though. Hence the dilemma of the working stiff. As a committed Aussie, it was McKenzie's heart's desire to coach his country, but reality is putting food on the table.
Rugby coaching jobs are limited at the best of times, so he was never in danger of sitting on his CV; and it was a résumé that the IRFU suits couldn't ignore.
"I was obviously looking for a job so you look at the options," he expands. "I didn't fly over here and case the joint. I had a look and made a few enquiries, but I did that on a number of fronts. It's what you do when you're looking at something to do.
"They (IRFU) had their own thoughts and I can understand they made the decision that they did. But I wasn't that close to the situation. I'm aware of the circumstances over here. It was a long time ago and I haven't put a lot of time into it to be honest.
"Generally, when there are coaching jobs coming up, they come up because there's a problem or something has to be fixed. There were lots of things floating around.
"From announcing my intentions to quit the Reds, this job was always in the back of my mind. The thing I didn't have control of was the timing.
"There was an incumbent coach contracted until the end of the year. In the meantime, if someone rings you up, you always take the call. You might listen and you move on. That happened a bunch of times in that period. But the Wallabies thing unfolded, but even then that was a process. Then you're offered the job and you have to make a decision. But until you're offered the job, there's no decision so you can't really worry about it."
McKenzie and current Ireland defence coach Les Kiss were initially rivals for the plum Irish post; both men worked together at the Waratahs (McKenzie also worked alongside Leinster coach Matt O'Connor).
He spent 2008-09 at the helm of Stade Francais – he recently caught up with some of his old charges on international duty for both Argentina and Italy; six degrees of separation is a popular game in the relatively small global rugby community.
Now, much like Schmidt, McKenzie is charged with steering a sport that is struggling financially, is far down the list of his country's popular pursuits yet of whom the demands are not merely to win, but to win well.
No pressure then.
"I am very conscious of the fan base in Australia," he says.
"We have got to keep it as relevant against the other sports because there are some big engines out there in other codes that we have to keep competing with.
"So we have got our own internal battle – never mind the actual game and where we are in the world. You have to create a reason for people to get up at three o'clock in the morning and watch a game in the northern hemisphere.
"You have to make them want to get out of bed, and they are not going to get out of bed if it's 6-3 or something like that. They have to be excited about the prospect, but you can't just decide 'we're going to do that tomorrow'.
"You have got to develop the mentality and the playing group, and we have got three provincial teams which are all pretty successful now but all play the game completely differently – probably like Munster and Leinster – and it is about how you bring that together at a national perspective and how you play the game.
"It's a really big conundrum for us because we're all used to saying winning fixtures is everything – but winning's not enough. That's what I say now, that's my sort of mantra.
"I've learnt that over time. In Australia, winning's not enough. It's how you win in some respects, but it's also what you do with the wins.
"We have a very cluttered winter sports market place in Australia, so you have to do something, you've got to get the fans to turn up. People will say that's entertainment or call it whatever you want, but we like to keep fans on the edge of their seats."