Could the Wallabies be on the path to, shock, horror, an orderly transition of the coaching reins from Michael Cheika to Stephen Larkham?
Tumult has been the way of recent appointments, with Robbie Deans a dead man walking for the first half of 2013 and Ewen McKenzie’s extraordinary resignation after the third Bledisloe Test in Brisbane in 2014.
It has taken some time for a sense of order to be restored but Australian rugby is getting there. Michael Cheika has found his groove again and it would take an act of God for him not to be in place for the next two years.
And behind him is Stephen Larkham. He is shaping as Cheika’s natural successor after the 2019 World Cup. Rugby in Australia might be heading towards a period of relative stability, if it can handle it.
The alternative model is well known – essentially a beauty contest, where a list of candidates is compiled and the successful candidate is almost a reaction to the previous boss.
Sometimes it works. It certainly has done wonders for England, where Eddie Jones took his outsider’s eye of their strengths and has ruthlessly gone about challenging their weaknesses.
But more often that not it makes any sense of continuity impossible, and the lesson of the previous regime are too easily cast aside.
A Larkham appointment avoids those pitfalls.
Remember, too, that something remarkable is quietly beginning to happen in Australia rugby. A Wallabies coach is having conversations about who should play No. 10 at the Super Rugby franchises and the sky is not falling in.
That is why the selection of Reece Hodge at No. 10 for the Wallabies against Japan is so intriguing. Hodge is a project in the position and the Wallabies know it. He may even struggle against Japan on Saturday. But if it is the start of a process between the Wallabies and Rebels that develops depth at No. 10 it is welcome. The Wallabies must not go into the World Cup with their hopes all tied up in the health of Bernard Foley.
To that end Larkham is not just a Wallabies assistant coach. He is involved in the national set-up at a potentially crucial point of the game’s history where there is apparently genuine dialogue between the various high performance arms.
There is also the story of Larkham’s own development. Is it any coincidence that the Wallabies attack has progressed so well now that Larkham has finished up with his commitments with the Brumbies? Probably not.
By the end of the Rugby Championship the Wallabies’ attack was a distant cousin to what we saw in June. There were some signs of progress against Italy, especially with some of the work on the short side, but it went to a different level during the Bledisloe Tests. Some of the phase play against the All Blacks in Dunedin was world class.
The Brumbies under Larkham were not always the most poetic team but that criticism may be moot. There are only two Brumbies in the Wallabies first-choice XV and Larkham still guided them to the top of the Australian Super Rugby conference this year.
It may not be the perfect transition. In an ideal world Larkham would have accrued a few years of coaching experience in the north before taking the top job in Australia.
The cards have not fallen that way but it does not negate the appeal of Larkham as Wallabies coach.
The wildcard here is Cheika. He has invested so much emotional and intellectual capital in the Wallabies that to walk away post-2019 may be too hard. Then again there will be no shortage of lucrative offers coming his way.
But if he goes he may leave a gift – a system that is far better aligned than the one he inherited, meaning the Wallabies’ future success will not be down to luck but design.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.