McKenzie tasked with restoring Aussie swagger
The man who could have been Ireland coach, Ewen McKenzie, will target discipline in his new role as Australia head coach.
However, the former Test prop – who was interviewed for the job to succeed Declan Kidney as Irish boss – insists that he will do it in a constructive way rather than trying to whip them into shape.
According to insiders, McKenzie impressed in his interview for the Ireland job before IRFU chiefs opted to appoint Joe Schmidt.
The 1991 World Cup winner takes over from the ousted Robbie Deans and inherits a side with morale near rock-bottom following Saturday's record loss in the series-deciding Test against the Lions.
Local media have reported a rift between senior players and the backline duo of James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale, whose repeated disciplinary lapses under Deans steeled the ARU's resolve to release the 53-year-old New Zealander.
The off-field problems, combined with a growing disenchantment for foreign coaches in Australian sport, created a perfect storm to sweep McKenzie (48) to power.
McKenzie, who turned a moribund Queensland Reds franchise into a title-winning outfit, will be expected to work his magic at Test level where Deans, a five-times championship winner at provincial level, proved unable. The similarities all but end there, however, and the pair have rarely seen eye-to-eye.
Deans' cagey and often cryptic observations led some reporters to brand him 'Yoda' in a reference to the 'Jedi master' in the Star Wars trilogy.
McKenzie has not hidden his disdain for Deans' selections, most notably with his recent blast at the New Zealander for not welcoming Reds out-half Quade Cooper back into the fold.
Where Deans has been blamed for low-scoring and defensive efforts by the Wallabies, McKenzie has endeared himself to rugby powerbrokers by bringing big crowds to Brisbane to watch the Reds' free-flowing rugby.
Like Deans, McKenzie has been set the ambitious task of bringing New Zealand's long domination of the trans-Tasman rivalry to an end and restoring the Wallabies to their glory days of the turn of the century. Other trophies are on the wish-list, with the 2015 World Cup the ultimate prize.
McKenzie will not only be charged with winning, but doing it in style to bring disaffected fans back to a game that has increasingly struggled in Australia's crowded sports market.
"Arguably the most important variable of all is that Ewen has the capability of coaching the way the Australian public wants to see the game played, which is smart, creative, running rugby," said ARU chief executive Bill Pulver, whose organisation has reported losses totalling E14.3m in the past two years.
Still coaching Queensland in their tilt for a second Super Rugby title, McKenzie has no time to settle before Australia take on New Zealand in Sydney on August 17.