The 48-year-old, whose first Wallabies squad assembled in Sydney on Monday, said he would not be throwing out everything from the Robbie Deans era, some of which was “world class”, nor simply replicating what he had done at the Queensland Reds.
But, as at the Reds where the likes of flyhalf Quade Cooper were given freedom to try different things on the park, McKenzie said he wanted to foster an environment where players felt they could use skills they had practised.
Cooper’s fallout with Deans, who quit after the series defeat to the British and Irish Lions last month, was not just about the comments he made about the Wallabies being a “toxic” environment but also because he felt restricted by the New Zealander’s gameplan.
“If players see an opportunity, you want them to take it. You don’t want to shut that down and just kick the corners and it’s 0-0,” McKenzie told reporters on Monday.
“I think that’s the Australian way, you’ve got to have a bit of a go. I’m not the sort of guy who wants to walk around and just say ‘no’ all the time.
“You’ve got to coach around the circumstance, was that the best time to do it? maybe look at the scoreboard, the timeline there. You’ve got to manage the thinking around it rather than just saying no.
“You’d like to be a team that can win games through skill. That doesn’t happen every day at the office. I think skill and expressing yourself is part of the way the Wallabies play, or at least the way I remember them, so you want to be edging that way.”
McKenzie announced his finalised coaching team on Monday, furthering the idea of continuity with a twist by bringing in one new assistant and keeping two who had worked under Deans.
Jim McKay has agreed to rejoin McKenzie as attack coach after their four years of success at the Queensland Reds, while defence coach Nick Scrivener and set piece coach Andrew Blades will continue in the roles they were appointed to last year.
Wallabies captain James Horwill, who also skippers the Reds, said he had not spoken to McKenzie about the way the team would play but suspected, with McKay also on board, a more attacking style.
“Knowing the two guys and the way they operate, that’s certainly going to be the main goal,” he said.
“We want to play a style of rugby that fits the guys in the team but also the Australian way and I think the attacking mindset is what the Australian public want to see.
“Obviously, there are times you have to kick and play field position but certainly we’re going to go out there and have a dig, that’s something that’s going to be quite evident come the first test, I’d imagine.”
That first test will be in Sydney against world champions New Zealand on August 17 in the Rugby Championship with a second test against the same opposition to follow in Wellington a week later.
If that was not a big enough challenge, McKenzie inherits a squad where the nocturnal activities of some members have become a concern over the last year.
When asked about disciplinary problems, the former test prop laid out his thoughts with a look that brooked no argument.
“It won’t be a problem, I’ll be making that very clear,” he said. “There’s not a big problem here, 95 percent of the players are doing the right thing every moment of every day.
“We’ll make it clear and then we’ll just manage it.”
(Editing by John O’Brien)