Wallaby bans aimed at improving team
A terse Ewen McKenzie has made no apologies for suspending six Wallabies in a hard-line move designed to set the standards required to win the 2015 World Cup.
Highly-respected 90-Test back Adam Ashley-Cooper is among five players axed from this weekend’s Scotland Test after staying out late and drinking in the build-up to last weekend’s win over Ireland.
The one-match bans compromise team selections for Sunday morning’s (AEDT) Test at Murrayfield but McKenzie is determined to improve team culture and behavioural standards at the start of his coaching tenure.
“We’re a high-performance team and we’re trying to climb the hill, climb the mountain, and get back to the top of world rugby,” he said in Edinburgh on Monday night (AEDT).
“It’s a significant enough challenge as it is with what our opponents present without making it difficult for ourselves.”
Ashley-Cooper, fellow starting winger Nick Cummins, as well as reserve forwards Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson and Liam Gill have been stood down from Sunday morning’s Test at Murrayfield, the fourth match on Australia’s end-of-season tour.
Second-string prop Paddy Ryan also received a one-match ban but will serve the suspension in the final match on tour, against Wales, so the Wallabies can supply a proper bench against the Scots.
Nine more players received disciplinary warnings as almost half the 32-man squad went out in the early hours of Wednesday morning after having dinner in Dublin on Tuesday night.
While the Wallabies don’t apply a curfew and allow a couple of glasses of wine at their Tuesday team dinner, McKenzie said it was a clear break of internal protocols.
Punishments varied depending on how late they stayed, how much alcohol players consumed and whether they were in the match-day 23.
Team management took two full days to uncover what had occurred and McKenzie handed down his punishments to players on Sunday morning.
He stressed there wasn’t enough time between finding out the full story and the Ireland clash, won 32-15 in the world No.4-ranked team’s best display of a forgettable year, to mete out bans earlier.
“There’s nothing sinister (involved),” he said. “This is about us making decisions about ourselves and judging ourselves
“We’re setting up the right behaviours and setting the right standards to be competitive at the World Cup (and) obviously we need to be … presenting the right image.
“The easiest thing to do in these situations is to do nothing. But to do nothing will give you mediocrity. We need to set high standards.”
It comes after the Australian Rugby Union cut wayward star James O’Connor loose eight weeks ago.
Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Saia Fainga’a, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps all received written warnings while starting flanker Scott Fardy, Mike Harris, Ben McCalman and reserve halfback Nic White were given verbal warnings.
Ashley-Cooper, loose-head prop Robinson and hooker Polota-Nau have been regular starting Test players for the past seven seasons.
McKenzie said he was “massively disappointed” and admitted there were some varying reactions to the bans from suspended players.
“On the whole they sucked it up and accepted they did wrong,” he said. “There’s a lot of disappointment in themselves
“It’s a significant embarrassment for themselves that they will miss the game.”
The loss of Cummins and Ashley-Cooper, added to Tuesday’s judicial hearing against red-carded centre Tevita Kuridrani, means McKenzie will have to be “creative” in his backline selections against the Scots.