Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver says Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has started to put the gloss back on the embattled code.
Ewen McKenzie is successfully doing the job he was hired to do by cleaning up rugby’s image and the Wallabies’ culture, according to Australian Rugby Union boss Bill Pulver.
Pulver has strongly endorsed McKenzie’s controversial hard-line stance on improving player standards and behaviour, shown by his decision to dump six Test players for late-night drinking last week.
The new Wallabies coach has copped criticism for taking a harsh stand when no problems arose from the episode in Dublin and his team went on to thump Ireland 32-15 four nights later.
The Rugby Union Players Association is investigating the situation as players have claimed there were no guidelines or regulations in place for the regular Tuesday night team dinner.
Six of the match-day 23 stayed out until the early hours of the morning, and were banned, while nine others – mostly non-playing squad members – were reprimanded for kicking on beyond midnight.
Punished players are hurt by the fact they feel they have done nothing wrong as post-Tuesday dinner socialising has been a regular occurrence in previous years.
But Pulver said that was no excuse at all.
“I am utterly shocked that people would find, particularly if you’re in the group of 23, that it’s acceptable to be out drinking after midnight, utterly shocked,” the ARU chief executive said in Edinburgh.
“If you’re not in the 23, you’re still part of the squad and your behaviours need to do everything possible to support those in the 23.
“I don’t think that’s acceptable behaviour.
“If there was any lack of clarity around what behaviours are considered acceptable, it’s gone.”
The ARU chief executive admitted a large part of the reason McKenzie was brought in to replace Robbie Deans was to improve a lagging culture, highlighted by continued misdemeanours from wayward stars James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale.
“Ewen has started with a focus discipline and he’s evolved that into trying to develop the right culture within the team,” Pulver said.
“He’s working through every single component of the Wallaby program to achieve the potential of what we want to achieve.”
McKenzie has also received plenty of support, largely from past players who are sick and tired of mediocre results on the world stage as the Wallabies have slipped to No.4 on the world rankings.
Pulver played down the Dublin episode but said it would be an important stepping stone to becoming a world-class team and also reviving rugby’s brand to make it more attractive to sponsors.
“I don’t think this is a problem, I really don’t,” he said. This is a great bunch of young men whose values I think are very well aligned to rugby’s core values.
“I don’t want to comment on other codes, but I think that is a serious point of difference with our code compared to many others.
“Sponsors want to align their brands with other brands that share their core values, and rugby attracts a very unique demographic that sponsors find attractive.”