Former World Cup-winning Daniel Herbert believes Rugby Australia must back their coaches and move towards a centralised system.
Former World Cup-winning Daniel Herbert believes Rugby Australia must back their coaches and move towards a centralised system.

Broken system: The fundamental flaw Aussie rugby must fix

TUNE out from social media, move towards a centralised system, provide job security and back the person you hired to complete the job.

That's the impassioned plea from World Cup-winning Wallabies centre Daniel Herbert, who believes Rugby Australia officials must change their way of thinking or see the game slide into oblivion and watch the country's best coaches walk away from the game forever.

On the back of yet another failed Bledisloe Cup campaign, a chorus of calls have been made for Wallabies coach Michael Cheika to be given the flick just one year out from the 2019 World Cup.

Back to back defeats to New Zealand mean Australia has won just one of its last seven Tests and the pressure mount on Cheika.

The 40-12 loss at Eden Park also saw Cheika's winning percentage slip to just 50 per cent after 50 Tests since taking over for Ewen McKenzie in extraordinary circumstances in 2014.

Wallabies centre pairing Daniel Herbert and Tim Horan with the Webb Ellis Cup after defeating France in the Rugby World Cup Final.
Wallabies centre pairing Daniel Herbert and Tim Horan with the Webb Ellis Cup after defeating France in the Rugby World Cup Final.

But Herbert - who also spent nearly a decade in rugby administration with the Queensland Reds - said the calls for Cheika's head were unnecessary and revealed a fundamental flaw in the system.

"The frustration for me is more systemic than it is of a performance on a particular day or night, or even across a period of time," Herbert told foxsports.com.au

"And, on the back of what's happened in Canberra, (change of Prime Minister), the discussion all of a sudden it turns on one person.

"I find the immediate outrage as a part of the problem we've got.

"We've seen it in Canberra in the last week and we've now got it in rugby where the blame turns on one person.

"Over the 16 years that we've lost the Bledisloe Cup, we've had some of the world's best coaches in Eddie Jones, John Connolly, Robbie Deans, Ewen McKenzie - are we saying that those guys can't coach?

"You've got some of the top shelf coaches of any country, of any time, that have won championships all over the place, up north, down south.

"At what stage do we say 'you know what, it's not actually about an individual, it might be the system that we force them to work within?"

After just one year Ewen McKenzie resigned as Wallabies coach and hasn’t coached since.
After just one year Ewen McKenzie resigned as Wallabies coach and hasn’t coached since.

Herbert, who played 67 Tests for the Wallabies and was a key member of the 1999 World Cup-winning side, added that the players needed to take more accountability for the disappointing results, which have seen Australia slide to fifth in the word rankings.

"This outrage on one person, what it does is it lets the players off the hook," Herbert said.

"The players are accountable for their performances and targeting our outrage at one or two individuals, it lets everyone else off the hook so they don't actually have to be accountable for what's just transpired.

"That was my immediate frustration after the (Eden Park) game.

"It was a good match for about 40 minutes and we looked really competitive and then they started to pick us apart.

"What annoyed me most about it, I don't mind teams going around you, if they have to put three, four, five good passes together and get around on the outside, I actually don't mind that, that's good play and you take your hat off.

"But when they go through you constantly, around the side of the ruck and putting their quick guys against our lumbering guys and straight through - that's what really annoys me because that's not something that's the fault of any coach.

"That's the players out there, they know that they just have to man up and get close enough and you don't let people run beside you.

"When you're on your own goal line, no-one should overpower you when you're five metres out from your own goal line.

"That's do-or-die stakes."

But the overarching issue in Herbert's view was an unstable environment for coaches.

He argued that social media was doing more harm than good and encouraged rugby officials to tune out.

"The administrators have got to switch off their Facebooks and Twitters and everything else where they get bombarded because I fear that gets involved with making decisions.

"What we used to say in the inside (as a player) was 'don't read the papers because it's fish and chip wrapper the next day.'

"Now, it's important that you recognise the job that the press have to do in terms of promoting your sport, and you've got to cop the brickbats when they come along - you can't take the glory when it's there but not cop the brickbats.

"But now that everyone with a phone is a broadcaster and doesn't have to qualify their opinion, doesn't have to check facts, it all leads to this outrage."

Daniel Herbert attacks the Springboks line at Ellis Park in 2002.
Daniel Herbert attacks the Springboks line at Ellis Park in 2002.

He added that a Wallabies coaching change would only serve as a short term solution.

"I see this outrage around - 'you've got to get rid of this guy' and all of a sudden that's going to fix the problem.'

"It's just nonsense.

"Most of the time when you move a coach on, you have this little up surge where performances over the next short period of time might improve, but over the medium term they go back to what they were before because you haven't fixed what the problem is."

Herbert bemoaned the loss of intellectual property across Australian rugby in recent times.

"Have a look at the quality of coaches we've had in this country, and it's not just at national level, have a look at the Super level," Herbert said.

"Where are all these guys?

"Michael Foley, Andrew Blades, Ewen McKenzie - they're all bloody good coaches and we've lost them now because we chewed them up and spat them out.

"They play no part in improving Australian rugby at any level.

"Why would you when you're thrown on the scrapheap?"

So, what's the solution for turning the game around in Australia?

"There's a systemic problem there, that they need to look at the whole system, not a coach, but actually how they govern the entire year, and the 'Kumbaya' doesn't seem to be working from the outside looking in," Herbert said.

"You've got to look at what else is working and I know that right now New Zealand, Ireland and even Scotland have a more centralised approach and it's working.

"You've got to look at it and you've got to consider whether that will be better for us.

"But the problem is, the constitutions of the state bodies doesn't allow them to centralise, so for the governing body, the only way they can centralise is if the states decide they're going to get in behind and support Rugby Australia."

Herbert is well placed to comment on the game's struggles.

He represented the Wallabies during the transition from amateurism to professionalism, and only recently finished his involvement with the Reds, where he served in a number of roles including executive general manager.

Herbert believes RA need to follow New Zealand Rugby's lead and prioritise the Wallabies, including resting key players during Super Rugby to keep them fresh, particularly with a World Cup on the horizon.

"The only thing that matters in the sport as far as I'm concerned is you've got the most number of kids playing," Herbert said.

"And I think the only thing that's going to drive them across the country is the national team performing - so therefore what do we need to do to make the national team successful?

"The problem is you can't do that because you've got self interest and self preservation at all levels because they're not protected.

"So when Michael Cheika comes along and says 'I need you to rest that player for the first eight weeks because I really need to win the World Cup next year' - the states don't have to do that.

"The one shining light at the moment is club rugby.

"They're doing a good job.

"But kids will emulate their heroes at the highest level and that's the way the All Blacks went about it.

"They all agreed that the All Blacks winning is so important to the country and to the preservation of the game, and they realised that we're going to have to make a lot of unpopular decisions that will ultimately tie into giving the All Blacks the best chance of winning.

"I think that rugby in Australia has to consider something similar."

Daniel Herbert believes Raelene Castle’s biggest legacy would be to see Rugby Australia centralise their program.
Daniel Herbert believes Raelene Castle’s biggest legacy would be to see Rugby Australia centralise their program.

Therefore, Herbert said creating a centralised system would be the biggest legacy RA chief executive Raelene Castle could leave.

"I know they were trying to pull all the states together with a national approach, but it's a toothless tiger when you can't force people to do it.

"You can only get so much blood out of the stone when it comes to managing a player's workload and priorities over a year … and in fact their whole career.

"We aren't talking about centralising IT or accounts.

"If we keep doing the same thing we will keep getting the same result.

"Fix the system and we've got a fighting chance."



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