AUSTRALIA’S preparations for Saturday’s Autumn Test against Scotland have been rocked by the news that Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has suspended six of his players and cautioned nine others involved in a night out ahead of last weekend’s win over Ireland in Dublin.
The Australian Rugby Union issued a shock statement yesterday announcing that wingers Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nick Cummins, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, prop Benn Robinson and backrower Liam Gill had been ruled out of the Scotland match at Murrayfield. All five would almost certainly have been in the frame to start the fixture.
Paddy Ryan will miss the following weekend’s Test against Wales – his suspension has been delayed, otherwise Australia wouldn’t be able to meet IRB regulations requiring match squads to contain four props.
“Everyone in our squad is required to comply with and adhere to high standards of ethical conduct both on and off the field,” McKenzie said in a statement. “Those standards were compromised in the lead-up to Saturday’s victory over Ireland with a group of players making the decision to stay out late and consume inappropriate levels of alcohol during the early hours of Wednesday morning.”
McKenzie, a prop in the 1991 World Cup-winning team, has taken a firm stance on discipline since replacing Robbie Deans as Wallabies coach following Australia’s series defeat to the British and Irish Lions in July. He withdrew James O’Connor for a tour to South Africa due to off-field disciplinary reasons before the ARU cut the utility back from its list of contracted players for 2014.
He said the latest incident was a preventative step and not the result of outside pressure.
“Let’s be clear – these are internal sanctions and aren’t a result of any complaints or reports of inappropriate or sinister behaviour while our players were out,” McKenzie said. “Instead, we have chosen to address an issue that has come up internally and we are now being up-front about it.
“We’ve done this because we need to continually reinforce the need for our players to make smart decisions to benefit the team.”
“We will always take action in relation to examples of poor
culture when it’s warranted. We’ve taken on the challenge of re-defining our team culture.”
The sanctions involved almost half of the 32-man touring squad. As well as the players who’ll miss a Test, Dave Dennis, Kane Douglas, Saia Fainga’a, Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps were given written disciplinary warnings, while Scott Fardy, Mike Harris, Ben McCalman and Nic White were given verbal warnings.
In his strongly-worded statement, McKenzie added that the sanctions will not be used as an excuse in the event of a poor performance against Scotland.
“There is no doubt having talented players unavailable will put this team under significant pressure but we won’t be using this situation as an excuse,” he said. “I am disappointed on a personal level, but firm action is the best outcome when presented with a scenario like this.”
“You need to deal with issues to ensure everyone can be accountable for their actions. The players involved have accepted the outcomes and we’ll concentrate on moving on and making the best of the situation. Our entire focus remains on beating Scotland.”
The start of McKenzie’s coaching stint with the Wallabies has been tumultuous, with home-and-away losses to No 1-ranked New Zealand and No 2-ranked South Africa in the Rugby Championship. But they did secure two wins over Argentina in Perth and Rosario. Soon after the championship they lost to England at the start of the European Tour.
The wins over Italy and Ireland were the first back-to-back Test wins in his coaching reign, which has also included dropping scrum-half Will Genia for a Test due to concerns over his form and replacing veteran lock James Horwill as captain.
Scotland, of course, have had disciplinary issues of their own recently. Four international players – Ryan Grant, Sean Maitland, Ryan Wilson and Rory Hughes – are expected to appear in court in Glasgow next month over an alleged serious assault. Grant and Maitland played in Sunday’s 28-0 defeat by South Africa at Murrayfield.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Rugby Union yesterday released a medical bulletin which revealed that Glasgow Warriors duo Tommy Seymour and Moray Low are fitness doubts ahead of the visit of the Australians. Wing Seymour (calf) and prop Low (shoulder) were described by the SRU as “the most significant casualties from the match” and will require further assessment this week.
Edinburgh pair Greig Laidlaw and Nick De Luca will also be subject to further treatment. Laidlaw, the captain against South Africa in the absence of Kelly Brown, required stitches in a cut to his knee and also sustained a dead leg, while De Luca had a shoulder injury. Seven other members of the squad were also treated by Dr James Robson after the game.