The Sydney Morning Herald’s Chief Rugby Writer, Greg Growden, questioned new Wallabies coach John ‘Knuckles’ Connolly on the challenge.
Connolly, speaking on the RugbyHeaven website, made it clear that he would not tolerate players with empty promises. If they did not deliver on the field he would get rid of them.
Q A decade after the ARU shafted you, and then some years later Queensland showing you the door, can you seriously believe you are now Australian coach?
A Life moves on. In 1995 I was very disappointed I didn’t get the job. But I got over that. I understand the nature of rugby, and how political it is, and how results-driven it is. Then again, I was very lucky to get the Queensland job in 1989, ahead of Alex Evans. It works both ways, and I haven’t got much to complain about because I’ve had a fantastic time in rugby, from when I started coaching in Darwin, 12 years with Queensland, and then France, Wales and England.
Q Obviously what many people want to know is your thoughts on George Gregan. You are going to see him today (Friday).
A We will have a chat. He is one of Australia’s greatest ever players, and the current Wallabies captain. Regardless of who is the captain, the first point of call should be him. George, like everyone else in the Wallabies, has a lot of things to work on in the off-season. The team will be selected on form, come the end of the Super 14.
Q But you have defended Gregan quite regularly in print, especially during the period when he was being heavily criticised. Obviously you are not as negative about him as quite a number of people are.
A There’s no doubt he does some things incredibly well. And there are a couple of areas where we think that he can improve on, like everyone else. I’ll be mainly chatting to him about the way forward, and his ideas.
Q When you were Queensland coach, you were often criticised for opting for 10-man rugby. Was that primarily because you had John Eales and Michael Lynagh, or was it a justified criticism?
A The game has evolved. In 1989-90 we had a different game. And you do have to play to your strengths. There was no lifting in the lineouts, and Eales and Lynagh were big assets. But in that time with Queensland we still developed [Tim] Horan, [Jason] Little, [Daniel] Herbert, [Pat] Howard, Nathan Grey, Ben Tune, Damian Smith, Chris Latham and Elton Flatley. The list goes on. They all became huge influences in Australian rugby.
Q Also when you were Queensland coach, you once barred the then Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer from attending one of your training sessions. Are you anticipating the same happening to you from one of the four Australian Super 14 coaches, particularly in Queensland?
A I hope not. But if there’s a problem in Brisbane, I’ll take Bob with me to show me the ropes.
Q During your official press conference, you said you believed the Wallabies can win the next World Cup. Are you serious?
A Yes. I think we have to do a lot of things well. You can’t deny the statistics which have come out about where we are at in the scrums, lineouts and breakdowns. We cannot ignore the fact that Australia is sitting fourth in the world rankings, and only half a point away from dropping to sixth. That’s quite serious. There are some serious issues we have to address before we can move forward. And we have a lot of work to do. Also most positions in the Test team are very open. Everything is up for grabs, which is exciting.
Q Is the most important issue improving the forward pack?
A Improvement has to be made across the board. We do have to improve the forwards, but as importantly we have to make sure we are 100 per cent on board off the field. We cannot go into denial about off-field issues. These issues may have impacted on what has occurred on the field. Even if it is only a fraction of a per cent it is too much. So there are a lot of areas we have to look at which are important. But I am very positive that we can do that.
Q Have you enough time?
A I think so. What we can’t do is start throwing excuses up. We know we only have 14 days between the last Super 14 match to the first Test, and that will be a huge challenge. But we have to simply cope with that. The Australian public expect us to do well, and we have to.
Q Is it an advantage that you don’t know most of the players, so there is no real baggage there?
A Yes, probably, because you can go in with a clean sheet.
Q You are keen on a Test selection panel. But don’t you think the head coach should get the team he wants?
A I think we will. By discussing the situation with the assistant coaches and the selectors, I think we’ll come up with a similar answer.
Q You were an Australian selector in the early 1990s. During that period, did the Australian coach ever get out-voted by the other two selectors?
A Everything is confidential Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ I’ll tell you later.
Q You have enjoyed a good relationship with Eddie Jones, who usually was in touch with you during overseas Wallabies tours. Have you talked to him, or will you talk to him, about this job?
A Eddie rang me up the other day, and wished me all the best. I have no problem. I have no problems with Eddie, and I will be talking to him quite a bit over the next few days, especially when he joins Queensland.
Q I would imagine that you would be a supporter of NSW’s push to have initials on the jerseys, because for years you’ve always wanted to have JC in big letters across your back?
A I’ve already got a jersey with that on. The Bath club gave it to me. I understand what Ewen McKenzie’s attempting. You are always looking for an edge, and it is a 15-man game. We do need eight forwards who can run with the ball, and backs who can do a lot more.
Q Finally, how did you get the nickname Knuckles?
A I honestly don’t know. It was one of those nicknames I ignored for a long time. For 20 years, I never answered to it. And then I just gave up because it would never go away.
JOHN CONNOLLY FACTFILE
Born: 26 June 1951, Brisbane.
* Played hooker with the Brothers club in Brisbane for more than a decade prior to 1980.
* Bath (England) 2003-04 to 2005-06.
* Swansea (Wales) 2002/03.
* Stade Francais (France) 2000-01 to 2001-02.
* Queensland (Super 12) 1996 to 2000.
* Queensland 1989 to 1995.
* Australian Selector 1991.
* Brothers (Brisbane) 1983 to 1988.
* 2004-05 Powergen Cup finalists (Bath).
* 2003-04 Zurich Premiership minor premiership (Bath).
* 2003-04 Zurich Premiership coach of the year (Bath).
* 2000-01 European Cup finalists (Stade Francais).
* 1999-2000 European Cup finalists (Stade Francais).
* 1999-2000 French Championship winners (Stade Francais).
* 1999 Super 12 minor premiership (Queensland Reds).
* 1999 Super 12 coach of the year.
* 1998 Super 12 coach of the year.
* 1996 Super 12 minor premiership (Queensland Reds).
* 1994 Super 10 Championship (Queensland).
* 1995 Super 10 Championship (Queensland).
* 1992 Super 6 Championship (Queensland).