Wayne Smith | October 12, 2007
Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill declared yesterday it was time to reward the heavy lifters in the front row.
The most glaring deficiency in the Australian team exposed by last weekend's quarter-final loss to England was the lack of quality props. It is probably no overstatement to suggest that had England loosehead Andy Sheridan been wearing a gold jersey instead of white, the Wallabies would have won pulling away. But, as former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones observed this week, Sheridan is a product of a British system that prizes, and judges, props almost exclusively on their scrummaging ability.
That is unlike Australia, where any likely-looking front-rowers are judged primarily on their footballing ability, with scrummaging a secondary consideration.
The failed cup campaign has left Australia with no option but to mimic the British model and that means providing meaningful incentives for front-rowers to become world-class scrummagers.
At present, the big money contracts are showered on the backs, with winger Lote Tuqiri and centre Matt Giteau the two highest-paid players in the country, although second-rower Nathan Sharpe is also in the vicinity.
The props, by contrast, would be among the lowest paid of the Wallabies, which is not to say they aren't being paid salaries most Australians would fantasise about.
"The reward systems have to be appropriately adjusted to make sure it's not the winger who always gets the big money," O'Neill said. "The heavy lifters will ... that's what's going to happen in our backyard."
O'Neill was caught pleasantly by surprise by The Australian's revelation Springboks coach Jake White was interested in applying for the Wallabies' coaching position.
"That's the first I've heard of it," O'Neill said. "The job's been advertised and it's open to all comers. The interviews are set down for the 9th of November."
While confirming his interest in the job, White said he would not allow himself to be distracted by such matters while the Springboks are in the running to win the World Cup. O'Neill was not perturbed by the fact that no contact had been made.
"There's ways and means of making contact and if he's genuinely interested, I'm sure we'll find out about it," he said. "Nothing is in, nothing is out. It's a genuine worldwide search for the best possible person."
Robbie Deans remains the preferred option but if, as expected, the six-time Super title-winning Crusaders coach is offered the All Blacks job instead, then the position of Wallabies coach is wide open.
White's late entry to the list adds an intriguing dimension. His coaching credentials are among the best in the world and will look a lot more impressive if the Springboks go on to win the World Cup. He would find Australian rugby's often murky politics a stroll in the park after negotiating the minefield of South African racial politics for the past four years.
Seemingly the biggest concern he would have to overcome is whether the cultural divide between the Springboks and Wallabies would be too wide. Whoever wins the Australia job can expect an increased workload because O'Neill is a firm believer that our players need to play more rugby.
The ARU boss claimed the Wallabies only had four hard matches all year to prepare themselves to confront England. The English however, had played two high-pressure knockout matches, against Samoa and Tonga, leading up to the quarter-final, this after being smashed 36-0 by the Boks in an earlier pool game.
While there is no doubt the Cape Town Test against South Africa and the two Bledisloe Cup Tests fully extended the Wallabies, it is debatable whether the so-called crunch pool game against Wales in Cardiff deserves to be rated as the equal of the Tri-Nations fixtures.
It could be argued that Australia over-estimated how strong the Welsh were and paid the price for believing they were further advanced in their forward play than they actually were.
O'Neill intends putting up with no further second-string sides being sent by northern hemisphere countries to Australia for the June series, even if that means cancelling tours and replacing them with credible opposition from the South Pacific or, just as likely, lobbying SANZAR to expand the Super 14 to play six-team finals series.[/b]