Rugby Australia boss Raelene Castle has given director of rugby Scott Johnson a glowing endorsement, saying he has made a “huge impact” on the Wallabies in his first six months in the job.
Johnson was brought in at the start of this year to oversee Wallabies coach Michael Cheika in a desperate bid to get the under-performing side on track for this year’s World Cup in Japan.
He and former dual-international Michael O’Connor also joined Cheika on a three-man selection panel, introduced on the back of the national team’s poor results.
Ahead of the Wallabies’ Bledisloe Cup against the All Blacks on Saturday in Perth, Castle said the appointment of Johnson, who held a similar role with Scotland and was caretaker coach in Wales, was working well.
She said he had built connections between the Super Rugby sides and the Wallabies and provided support to Cheika and the Wallabies staff.
“The role he’s played with the selection panel coming into a World Cup has been a really important part of that mix to make sure Cheik can bring his views to the table and he can have someone to robustly debate the rationale as to who he is selecting.
“We’re about six months in and he’s made a huge impact.”
The Wallabies have had a loss and a win in their two Rugby Championship Tests since Johnson’s appointment with selectors having to balance out World Cup preparations with the need to win.
Castle said the Optus Stadium Test against the All Blacks, who have been patchy in their two outings, was an opportunity for the Wallabies to show they were on track.
“There’s a combination of making sure you’ve built your squad and giving them time on the park to pick the best team to go to the World Cup,” she said.
“At the same time the Rugby Championship is an important competition, world rankings are important for us and our reputation as a Wallabies team and winning Test matches is important.
“When you bring all those things together it makes for interesting outcomes because probably all of the teams maybe haven’t really performed – this is an opportunity for the Wallabies to really step up.”
It’s the Wallabies first Test in Perth since 2017 and the axing of the Western Force from Super Rugby – but fans have shown their support with the match a sell-out.
Castle said she hoped playing in Perth would help mend bridges.
“No-one more than Rugby Australia understands how hurt the rugby community is about losing the Western Force, so we understand that and how difficult it’s been but we’re doing all that we can to engage with rugby in this part of Australia. It’s important to us,” Castle said.