Wallabies rugby coach Ewen McKenzie has begun preparing his team to face a “confrontational” Scotland in Saturday’s concluding viagogo Autumn Test at Murrayfield. Many in Murrayfield’s 49,000 crowd for last weekend’s 0-28 defeat by South Africa reckoned the Scots were too easily bullied and knocked around.
However, once he had cleared up the fall-out from bans imposed on six players who took part in ‘Fostersgate’ – a drinking session prior to his team beating Ireland last weekend – ex-international prop McKenzie was adamant that the Wallabies’ chances of avoiding a third straight defeat by Scotland will start and finish up front.
“Scotland are a dogged side. They made the Springboks work hard,” claimed McKenzie who revealed an unusual source of inside track.
“We had a chance to speak to the Springboks when they were staying in our hotel.
“They all said the same thing, that Scotland defended pretty well.
“I know people won’t think that from the scoreline but they made the Springboks work really hard at the breakdown which is pretty important the way the game is played at the moment.
“The Springboks are a very good attritional side and they are a heavyweight team but Scotland made them work pretty hard and that was the feedback we got from the Boks.”
With McKenzie having ancestors from Aberdeenshire it is arguable there will be as much Scottish blood in the Aussie coaching box as there is in Scotland’s.
The home dug-out features head coach Scott Johnson, who hails from Sydney, and his defence guru, Matt Taylor, from Brisbane albeit a Scotland A cap himself, while Welshman Jonathan Humphreys has charge of the forwards and Italian Massimo Cuttita oversees scrummaging.
For the record, there is also Dumfries-born Duncan Hodge, the kicking coach. “I know Scott Johnson very well and Mattie Taylor coached for three years at the (Queensland) Reds so I know him very well from a defensive point of view,” said McKenzie who quickly added: “Knowing and actually doing are two different things. We have to get out there and make it happen.
“Half the playing group has already presented information around Scotland. We have a plan but we know it is going to be really difficult. They are a hard team to play here and they make everyone work really hard.
“We are going to have to be good to get it done.”
McKenzie acknowledged Scotland would be more competitive for having an outing against the Springboks under their belt.
“There is no doubt they are coming off shorter preparations. Ireland found the same thing. There is a bunch of things in play.”
Referring to a forecast of low temperatures later this week McKenzie said: “The weather is obviously in play.”
As for the controversial Murrayfield playing surface where worms are being blamed for destroying the roots of the turf and thus making it especially difficult for scrummagers to get a foothold, he said: “The pitch is obviously a topic of discussion. Tactically it is an interesting game for us. We are going to have to deal with a very confrontational side.
“They (Scotland) make the rucks and particular phase plays quite complicated.
“They make a mess of that and for us to get continuity we have to deal with the way they are going to try to stop us.”
The six players who receive one-game suspensions are wingers Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins, front rowers Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson and Paddy Ryan, and the back rower, Liam Gill.
Handed written sanctions were given to Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Saia Fainga’a, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps while Scott Fardy, Mike Harris, Ben McCalman and Nic White were reprimanded verbally.
Ryan’s ban will be delayed as IRB regulations require each match-day squad to contain at least four props on safety grounds.
However, regardless of putting players on the sidelines for a team now dubbed down under as “The Wobblies”, McKenzie believes his squad will still be competitive.
Indeed, events on the Tuesday before the Dublin Test when the players went for a meal in town but some stayed out longer than others, could actually put extra pressure on Scotland to deliver a result.
“We will have a very good team, a motivated team to go out there and have a good crack,” said McKenzie who was reluctant to be drawn on whether Australia could benefit from a siege mentality as a consequence.
“This was a backdrop and we played well (when beating Ireland).
“I am not using this to motivate the team to play well against Scotland; it is about doing the right thing for the Wallabies long haul.
“We will assemble the best bunch of guys and I am sure the motivation will be good.
“It puts us under pressure everywhere – fan base and people’s love of the game. These things don’t drift along in the background because inevitably they come along and bite you.
“Let’s be clear: these are internal sanctions and aren’t a result of any complaints or reports of inappropriate or sinister behaviour while our players were out.
“Instead, we have chosen to address an issue that has come up internally and we are being up front about it.
“We’ve done this because we need to continually reinforce the need for our players to make smart decisions to benefit the team.
“I’d much prefer to be talking about Scotland and what we are going to do.
“There are obviously ramifications.”
Asked about whether he was trying to change the culture of the Wallabies given some recent high-profile incidents, McKenzie made a passing reference to troubles in the Scotland camp.
Two players who faced South Africa – Sean Maitland and Ryan Grant – have a court appearance scheduled for next month along with Glasgow colleagues Ryan Wilson and Rory Hughes against the background of an alleged assault. “It doesn’t matter what sport – Scotland are going through a few things at the moment – unfortunately it happens. I have only been in the job three months and can only account for what has happened on my watch. I value this aspect of elite sport (discipline) very highly.”
McKenzie said no action could be taken ahead of the Irish match because of the time needed to complete his enquiries.
And, despite the fun of branding this incident ‘Fostergate’, and also terming the team “Wobblies”, McKenzie’s stance has been backed down under.
A poll in today’s Sydney Morning Herald claimed 81 per cent of readers supported his disciplinary action.
However, selection difficulties could intensify depending on the outcome of an appeal by centre Trevita Kuridrani against his red card for a dangerous tip tackle in Dublin.