ABC: Ewen McKenzie chuckles when he recalls the baptism of fire in international coaching he underwent last year when Australia took on New Zealand in back-to-back Tests to open the Rugby Championship.
Two defeats followed and the Wallabies went on to lose the third Bledisloe Cup test to their trans-Tasman Sea rivals, all the optimism about how McKenzie might change Australian fortunes buried under the weight of All Blacks tries.
Twelve months on and McKenzie is contemplating a similarly daunting start to the Rugby Championship with a home opener against the All Blacks on August 16 followed by the return in Auckland the following week.
While New Zealand are no less fearsome a prospect and go into the match at Sydney’s Olympic stadium looking for a record 18th successive win, McKenzie believes the year he has had working with the Wallabies will pay dividends.
“You don’t roll into it,” he said.
“But I feel better having been involved in the French series, that was a really good period for us.
“So when we next get together, even though there’s been the hurly-burly of the Super Rugby finals, the guys will just dust themselves off and get on with it.
“I think they’ll feel better prepared for the challenge this year, I certainly feel better about it.”
Australia’s comprehensive 3-0 sweep of the French in the June series came after an encouraging finish to their November tour of Europe and means they enter the Rugby Championship on a run of seven victories themselves.
It sometimes seems that wins over New Zealand are all that count in Australian rugby, though, and the Wallabies have racked up impressive winning streaks before only to come a cropper when they meet the All Blacks.
McKenzie is a fan of the stock therapy group maxim sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.
For that reason, the 49-year-old has set about overhauling everything the Wallabies do on and off the field in order to create an environment where, he believes, success can flourish.
“There’s been a lot to work on,” he added.
“Some of the parts of the job have been easier than I thought, some have been harder. I guess that’s the same in every job.
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge but it hasn’t been easy. I was pretty adamant we needed to do some things differently to do better.
“There isn’t anything that has remained untouched and the sum of that will hopefully give us better outcomes.”
Some of those changes have come on the field, some will probably not be known until memoirs are written many years down the line, while others have been made apparent by public action.
McKenzie to resist changes
McKenzie looks poised to resist wholesale changes to the side that swept France, with Pat McCabe looming as the man to lock down the vacant wing spot for next week’s Bledisloe Cup opener against the All Blacks.
McKenzie is poised to make just two forced starting changes to the side that beat France 50-23 in game one despite several Waratahs players – including Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps – staking strong claims for selection during their Super Rugby title win.
Brumbies comeback king McCabe was seen training in the wing spot vacated by Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins.
As widely expected, Western Force frontrower Nathan Charles was training in the hooker role following knee injuries to rakes Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Workhorse Sam Carter also looks as though he will hold onto his spot at lock ahead of Waratahs giant Will Skelton and former captain James Horwill after missing the final two matches against the French with a sprained ankle.
Likely Wallabies starting XV: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Pat McCabe, Bernard Foley, Nic White, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper (capt), Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons, Sam Carter, Sekope Kepu, Nathan Charles, James Slipper.