DUBLIN – Dave Rennie admits “pressure” is building on him but says his entire focus is on the Wallabies group ahead of their season-defining Test against Ireland on Sunday (AEDT).
The third-year head coach left himself open before their five-match end of season tour when he said he wanted to sort out his future beyond the 2023 World Cup early in the new year.
But after an underwhelming year, where the Wallabies have won just four of 12 Tests and are coming off a historic first defeat to Italy, Rennie is fighting to make it to the World Cup, let alone beyond the four-year tournament.
Rennie, whose winning percentage is hovering at an unflattering 37.5 per cent, was in little mood for small talk but was in his calm and considered self during his press conference to announce the team for the weekend.
Asked whether the week had tested him, Rennie acknowledged he was feeling the heat but said it was important to be positive and that he trusted his side to deliver a strong performance against the world No.1 nation.
“The big thing is that there is certainly pressure on me but if I put that pressure back on our staff and our players then it isn’t going to help us at the weekend, is it?” he said.
“So, the key thing is that we keep looking forward and get better, and the decisions we have made have been in what’s best for the long-term future of the team.
“But you’ve got to wear the results.
“I’m a glass half-full type of person. I trust the players will respond and put in a good performance on Saturday.”
Will Skelton, who is battling a calf complaint but has been selected on the bench, was the latest person to go into bat for the coach.
“For me, he’s a true professional. He has the detail right on point,” Skelton said.
“I think it’s down to the players nailing our role and then trusting the process. I think that’s what we’ve spoken about is trying to play without fear and that’s backing Dave and the coaching staffs’ plan for the weekend.”
His comments came after Nic White earlier in the week said the Wallabies needed to “step up” to show how much they “care” for Rennie.
“We don’t have our heads buried in the sand, we understand the pressure that’s come on (Dave),” he said.
“It’s disappointing, we feel as a playing group we’re letting him down that he’s got this pressure because we do absolutely love being coached by Dave. He’s a phenomenal coach and the coaching staff here are world class.”
Rennie, who caught up with Leinster coach Leo Cullen on Wednesday, said he had no regrets about making 12 changes for the Italy loss but appreciated the support shown by the playing group.
“I appreciate the support. I also understand the fact that as head coach you’ve got to take things on the chin,” he said.
“It was our decision to pick that side last week and I still don’t have any regrets around the men we chose, it was right for the group, it was right for the future. We need to provide opportunity for them and we need to share the load, and it was a side that was good enough to win, and we didn’t. So, I’ve got to take responsibility for that.
“But I know we have a very determined squad who want to make a statement this weekend.”
He has made 10 changes to his starting side for the Wallabies’ return to the Aviva Stadium, with seven changes to the pack, the return of Nic White and Bernard Foley to the halves and Andrew Kellaway at fullback.
How the Wallabies fare against Ireland could well determine Rennie’s future with the Wallabies.
Should they lose, they will have to beat Wales to avoid becoming the worst Wallabies side statistically since 1958.
It would also leave Rennie vulnerable despite Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan backing the coach through to the World Cup ahead of the Bledisloe series in October.
Asked whether his future meant there was more of an edge to their penultimate match of the season, Rennie said the focus needed to be on the Wallabies and not on him.
“I guess my focus at the moment is not on me, it’s on the group,” he said. “The key thing for the group is to perform well over the next few weeks.”
Fixing their horrible discipline will go a long way in helping the Wallabies’ cause.
The Wallabies gave away 16 penalties during their one-point loss to Italy, while the home side scored 14 points with Jake Gordon in the sin bin for a needless tackle off the ball.
Rennie said their ill-discipline could be put down to a multitude of reasons, including training and leadership, but players were starting to pay the price for their costly errors.
Curiously, however, Gordon and prop Tom Robertson, who also was penalised for an off the ball incident, were selected on the bench.
“It’s all of that. In the review we always have a section around discipline and what we call ‘dumb arse penalties’ and they are controllables,” he said.
“We highlight that and the individuals responsible for them making shifts there and ultimately, for some, it will come down to selection and that’s been the case for one person this week.
“Yeah, we’ve just got to be better. As I said, we can’t knock over the best sides in the world if we keep giving 14, 15 penalties away.”