INTERVIEW: Wallabies legend Bob Dwyer

Alam Khan 1/10/2015
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RWC winning ex-Australia coach Bob Dwyer is back in England for the competition.

When a French station compiled highlights of Australia’s march to World Cup glory in 1991, it was accompanied by the symphony Ode to Joy. There’s a hearty laugh at the mention of being Bob ‘Beethoven’ Dwyer, but that showreel mattered to the coach who orchestrated their first title, sealed by a 12-6 success over England at Twickenham.

And, as strange as it may seem for an Australian to say given their rich sporting history, winning was not all that mattered for Dwyer.

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“I was never a coach to focus on outcomes and have certainly never been a coach that would sacrifice quality for a winning strategy,” he tells Sport360. “It was never enough to just win, but to play well.

“Our feeling in ’91 was, that if we played to the best of our ability we had a great chance – and if we didn’t, we would not win.”

This was the mindset of a man who grew up admiring Sir Donald Bradman before the 1959 British Lions rolled into town and Dwyer pursued rugby as his biggest passion.

“I was a mad keen cricket fan as a boy,” he recalls. “All my heroes were in the Australian cricket team. Bradman had finished playing when I was young but he was still so famous you wanted to be like him. Then there was Arty Morris, Ray Lindwall, Neil Harvey, Norm O’Neill, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson.

“I never became an absolute rugby fan as a watcher until I went to university and the 1959 Lions came to Australia. I had enjoyed playing with Randwick in the Colts competition but when I saw the Lions I became fascinated by the international aspects of the game. Been hooked ever since.

“Ronnie Dawson was captain and they had Syd Millar, Tony O’Reilly, Ken Scotland, Bev Risman and David Hewitt.

“They did inspire me and I got Rugby News from the UK every month and became quite well versed with rugby in the UK and then got to know about the international tours and South Africa and New Zealand.”

Eye of the Tigers: Dwyer gives an teamtalk as Leicester coach in 1996.

Soaking up knowledge with every publication and every game he played with Randwick’s senior side, the former flanker then moved into coaching with his club after retiring as a player in 1976.

“Our club coach had also retired and when I saw people applying I thought I can do a better job,” recalls Dwyer, who led Randwick to four Sydney titles before Australia first came calling in 1982. “I don’t think I had an aspiration to be a coach at that time, but the opportunity came. I loved seeing quality players in action and was always anxious to hear what those players and coaches had to say about the game and I remembered most things.

“I was a leader when I played, always an outspoken sort of guy – bossy my wife, Ruth, reckons – and transferred that to other guys. In those days as a captain, if you weren’t the coach you were half a coach. I always aspired for the players to play better.

“Some you wonder if you ever added much to their game. David Campese was a great player, but my contribution was to move him from full-back to wing and from left wing to right wing where he played most of his best rugby. Phil Kearns and Jason Little, they had great individual talent but acknowledged that I was able to add things to their game. Those things are rewarding.”

And so too was building a side to become the world’s best. Dwyer spent just a year in his initial spell as Wallabies coach. But, taking over again in 1988 until 1995, it was sweeter second time around.

“The problem with the first spell was that I was impatient,” he says. “The players I introduced in 1982/83 went on to be important, influential players. If I had more time I think we would have been just as successful.

“People started to notice us in ’91 because we had beaten the All Blacks twice in the previous year and given England and Wales a hiding earlier in Australia.

“There was a real desire on my part to convince the players you have to leave your mark and play in such a way that people look up and say, ‘these guys are good and the team is good’.

“I heard an interview with [former All Blacks captain] Sean Fitzpatrick when he said looking back to ‘91 perhaps New Zealand had better individual players, but Australia had a better team. I’m not sure what he means. How can you be a better individual player if you can’t contribute to a team performance?

“We were as one in our desire to play well and let the result take care of itself.”

It was exemplified in the 16-6 semi-final win over the All Blacks, who were reigning champions, and then England, who were left frustrated after Campese knocked forward a pass intended for Rory Underwood, who felt he would have had a clear run. A penalty, rather than a penalty try, was the controversial outcome.

But Dwyer says: “England had lifted their game and played very well in the final, but I thought we were the better team and deserved it. I remember French TV made a mini video of Australia’s play set to classical music.

“It was entitled something like 10 moments of happiness. L’Equipe also chose a World XV of the tournament with 15 Australians. It was exaggerated, but showed what they thought of us – and the French love quality rugby.”

Dwyer, now 74 and “doing well” after a heart attack in 2013, is back in England for this year’s World Cup to see how Australia fare 14 years on. The Wallabies have won both their opening games in Pool A against Fiji and Uruguay, but face England on Saturday and then Wales, who upset the hosts last weekend.

And Dwyer says: “There’s no margin for error in the results. I think we have got winning players and it’s how we play on any one day. It’s not whether you have good enough players, but whether you play good enough.

“After that, anything is possible. New Zealand are favourites, but in every tournament played they are favourites or joint – and they haven’t won them all have they?

“If Australia play to their best they can win it. And if we are good enough to win it, we have to get through this group and beat England and Wales. If it was an easy group, we could have fallen in a hole.”

Dwyer is an admirer too of Australia coach Michael Cheika, who was a young player at Randwick when he was in charge and also gave him a reference when he applied for the Leinster coaching post. “Mike is a very smart coach and he understands how to get quality performances when necessary,” he says. “He showed that with Leinster, the Waratahs and now with Australia. He understands my personality very well in lots of ways. He can get cross as I can and speak frankly and directly as I did. Players love his straightforwardness.”

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#360Rugby: England’s lack of leadership, welcome back South Africa

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Can England qualify from the Group of Death?

The Rugby World Cup is in full flow and this week #360Rugby takes in England’s lack of leadership, the superlative Alun Wyn Jones and an ominous return to form for the Springboks.

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England suffering from a lack of leadership
England backs coach Andy Farrell noted this week that the team are now in ‘fight mode’ and the hosts’ problems can be traced to a lack of leadership.

Coach Stuart Lancaster must take some of the blame for the shock loss to Wales, with poor squad selection in midfield a key factor behind the result. But Chris Robshaw’s decision making in the heat of battle has once again come up short as England turned down the chance to draw this crucial match.

Against Ireland in the Six Nations England failed to come up with a response to Conor Murray’s kicking game and it is this failure to adapt during the game that could see England come unstuck against one of the world’s most tactically astute teams in Australia.

The loss of Billy Vunipola to injury will have a detrimental effect to England’s attack but there is a silver lining. In Nick Easter England will gain a veteran back row and his extra leadership experience could be vital in easing the burden on Robshaw’s shoulders in their Pool A showdown.

Welcome back South Africa
England must take inspiration from the Springboks, who answered their critics after losing to Japan in emphatic style with a 46-6 crushing of Samoa.

The only dampener on the South Africa’s afternoon was the injury and subsequent retirement of captain Jean de Villiers. The blonde-haired centre’s untimely injury made all the worse given his inspirational story to regain fitness in time for the World Cup.

It must be said that de Villiers was not in the best form of his illustrious career but his very presence and leadership will be what Heyneke Meyer misses the most.

However, in Victor Madfield, Fourie du Preez and Bismarck du Plessis the Boks have plenty of other leaders to guide the team.

Meyer was always going to stick with his man through thick and thin but JdV’s absence, may now reunite South Africa’s most potent centre combination of Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.

Alun Wyn Jones the best in the business

Injury-depleted Wales submitted a Herculean team effort to overcome England and one player who encapsulated their spirit on the evening in his individual performance was Alun Wyn Jones.

The Ospreys second-row was exemplary in his work rate and seemed to hit every ruck, consistently slowing England’s attack down if not forcing a turnover.

The British and Irish Lion showed no signs of being hampered by his troublesome knee injury and used all of his 91-cap experience to re-group his players in the face of an early English onslaught and an injury crisis.

Imperious at the line-out and constantly in the ear of referee Jerome Garces without pestering him, the Welsh captain made his presence known for 80 minutes.

 Warren Gatland will be relying heavily on Jones to fire-up a fatigued side for a crunch match against Fiji – the team responsible for Wales’ exit from the 2007 World Cup.

Scotland no push-over
It took a half-time dressing down from Vern Cotter to get Scotland going but they simply blew the USA away in the second-half with five tries to secure a bonus-point victory.

With two wins under their belt the Dark Blues have one foot on a potential World Cup quarter-finals with a next match against South Africa likely to determine who wins the group.

The Africans’ thrashing of Samoa will see them start the match as favourites but they will have to be at their very best to repel a Scotland side that have transformed into an efficient attacking unit under their New Zealand coach.

The Scots will be sweating over the fitness of fly-half Finn Russell as the Glasgow playmaker looked back to his creative best before an ankle injury forced him from the field.

This is the supporters’ Rugby World Cup 

As the total match attendance figure nears the one million mark, it is important to note how brilliant the crowds have been at England and Wales 2015.

A World Cup record attendance of 89,267 piled in to Wembley Stadium to watch Ireland’s second team dispatch Romania, surpassing the previous weekend’s record breaking Rugby World Cup crowd of 89,019.

With Ireland’s bid for the 2023 World Cup gathering momentum, the sheer numbers and joy the green-clad fans bring to the tournament is enough to make World Rugby sit up and take notice.

However it is not just the top teams that are attracting the attention. Playing in front of packed stadia, teams including USA, Georgia, Japan and Namibia have received strong support with Romania playing in front of 140,000 fans across just two pool matches.

Almost equally impressive are the numbers of supporters without tickets who are traveling to fan zones to soak up the atmosphere with 378,000 visitors to date passing through the doors.

Extra time

If the first round was all about up-and-unders, the second round was all about off-loads. The ‘Sonny Bill’, if executed correctly, is an effective method of drawing several defenders in and releasing an on-running runner.

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Bowe sticks up for Irish centre Payne in the wake of criticism

Nick Purewal 30/09/2015
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Central to the debate: Ireland outside centre Jared Payne.

Tommy Bowe has leapt to the defence of Jared Payne after the Ireland centre’s World Cup form was savaged by former Ulster coach Matt Williams.

Ex-Ulster and Scotland boss Williams claimed Ireland have “huge issues” in midfield when analysing the 44-10 victory over Romania for Irish channel TV3.

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Williams believes Ireland will struggle to reach the latter stages of the tournament with Payne at 13 – leading Bowe to stick up for his Ulster team-mate.

Bowe branded Williams a “bad cop” pundit, insisting Ireland would take little notice of outside opinion.

“I was just chatting to one of the lads yesterday about how good it is to actually play alongside Jared,” said Bowe.

“As a squad, we know what a talented player Jared is. He has a lot of time on the ball and he makes it easy for us wingers and people inside and outside him to play with because he’s just so consistent.

Ireland star man Tommy Bowe has rescued to Jared Payne's defence.

“His communication is very good from a defensive point of view and he’s probably one of the best passers of the ball in the squad.

“He has a bit of X-Factor about him when he gets the opportunity to put it on.

“He’s been a key part of the squad and team over the last year or two.”

Williams believes Ireland should promote Darren Cave to outside centre for Sunday’s vital Pool D clash against Italy at London’s Olympic Stadium. Ireland will qualify for the quarter-finals with victory over the Azzurri and Williams is calling for changes.

“He’s making really poor decisions: he’s kicking the ball all the time and he’s kicking very badly,” said Williams of Payne.

“He’s not making breaks. He’s running across field.

“So, you can tick just about every box for doing things wrong as an outside centre in attack.

“I certainly do not believe that for us to go deep in the tournament that’s going to be good enough.

“We have to get some centres that are going to show the ability to go through teams.”

 New Zealand-born Payne is likely to be reunited with usual centre partner Robbie Henshaw for Ireland’s crucial Italy clash.

Henshaw is fit again after hamstring trouble, with head coach Joe Schmidt expected to restore his first-choice centre pairing.

“He makes it easy for us wingers because he’s just so consistent” – Tommy Bowe

Meanwhile, Italy talisman Sergio Parisse must still pass two more fitness tests before being cleared for Sunday’s match.

Captain and linchpin Parisse finally joined Italy’s World Cup camp this week, and jumped straight into training on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old Stade Francais number eight remains confident his calf hematoma will clear in time for him to start.

 Italy’s team doctor Vincenzo Ieracitano said: “He’s happy to be here and confident he will be able to play.

“Tomorrow he will definitely train with the rest of the squad, then on Thursday he will go through a fitness test in the gym.

“And if that goes well we will see how he gets on in training and then we will have another check to see if he can play.”

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