“My view has always been consistent; as a player, you want to be coached by the best, you want to learn and be a part of the best team in the world and you want to be part of a really successful team and environment where you always feel you learn,” Eales said. “To me, where that person comes from is not as important as what you learn from them.”
Kearns, also a World Cup winner, said without a standout Australian option, Rennie was widely agreed upon in rugby circles as the best man for a job not all top coaches would want to take on.
“I do think he’s the right man,” Kearns said. “There’s no other obvious Australian candidate. Dave has got an amazing record. The feedback I’ve had from people that have played under him; Steve Donald, the former All Black five-eighth, said he’s the best coach he’s ever had. Murray Mexted said he is one of the best coaches that’s come through IRANZ [International Rugby Academy of New Zealand] and Stuart Barnes said he has done great things in Glasgow. From people that have known him and seen him, he sounds like a great pick.”
Rennie becomes the first New Zealand coach of the Wallabies since Robbie Deans, who took over in 2008.
The former Crusaders boss was a polarising figure throughout a period which saw him help the Wallabies to 43 wins from 74 Tests.
Mehrtens, the 70-Test All Blacks No.10, played under Deans at the Crusaders in the early 2000s and reckons Australia supporters have come to acknowledge they may need the help of a Kiwi.
“I think there would be more of a reaction to having a Kiwi coach again if there hadn’t been a dire – well not dire, there have been good wins – but over 16 years to not have had the Bledisloe Cup, I think that has given Australians a grudging respect; an acceptance that a large part of the world’s rugby intellectual property and modern rugby sits at the moment in New Zealand,” Mehrtens said. “One of our chief exports, alongside dairy products, is rugby. I think they will be sitting back hoping that he will have the passion for the Wallabies they want to see.”
Cheika’s parting wish was for his replacement to be Australian but it is likely he already knew Rennie’s contract was as a good as done when he made the comment at Sydney Airport on his return from a dismal World Cup campaign.
Former Wallaby Rod Kafer joined the chorus of those who think Rennie’s appointment is an astute one.
“By taking a coach with Dave Rennie’s experience, I think he will be an excellent choice,” Kafer said. “Perhaps there is an Australian coach in the wings somewhere and we’ll see one in the next cycle which would be fantastic.”
Tom Decent is a journalist with The Sydney Morning Herald