After establishing his top-flight coaching credentials with the Melbourne Rebels, former England and Lions star Geoff Parling has set the bar higher still by vowing to kick-start an Aussie revival when the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championships starts next month.
Recently appointed as Australia’s forwards coaches for two daunting Bledisloe Cup assignments against New Zealand, which began in Wellington on Sunday, lineout guru Parling believes he has seen enough potential among his young Wallabies despite their underdog status.
Former Newcastle, Leicester and Exeter lock Parling, a star of the Lions’ series win against Australia in 2013, told The Rugby Paper: “Through the second half of Rugby AU we saw a growth in the quality of play from our players and I just want guys to be a tight-knit group and well organised.
“There are some good qualities in what I’ve seen so far. We’ve got some powerful athletes and a good mix of youth and experience, with guys like Michael Hooper, James Slipper and Rob Simmons having lots of caps. As long as we can get the young guys ready to rip in with big belief backing up what we’re doing, it’s going to be awesome to see what they can do.”
Parling added: “I’ve loved my time coaching in Australia and I take a lot of pride when I see young guys develop. You’ve seen that at the Rebels this year where we became a tighter group and some young guys have got a chance here now. Trevor Hosea (a 20-year-old lock), made his debut in round two of Rugby AU and is in a Wallabies camp now, so I know what it means to him.
“If I can have an impact on the other guys now and help improve them, that will mean a lot to me as well. I’ve got big expectations of the lads we’ve got here and it’s a brilliant group.
“I appreciate that it’s not going to be a normal Rugby Championship with all the security arrangements around Covid-19, and it’s been a different feeling going into these Bledisloe Cup games. But these will be the first international games played anywhere since the Six Nations finished so we can’t wait to get stuck into them.”
Head coach Dave Rennie included 16 new faces in his first selection, which contained just 16 of the 31-man squad who bombed out of the 2019 World Cup against England.
Despite Rennie’s reputation as a coach who espouses attacking rugby, Parling insists the Wallabies will employ some steel. He said: “If you look at any of the teams he’s coached, he certainly likes a bit of movement. Look at Glasgow, look at the (Waikato) Chiefs and there’s a lot of movement there, but I’d also say those sides had a bit of edge about them as well.
“Glasgow were known for playing with ball in hand but also having a tough edge, so while he likes to have a crack, he also wants a bit of a dark side when it’s needed.”
While Parling’s rapid rise up the coaching ladder may surprise some, a deep-seated desire to coach that began when he was at Newcastle and developed during subsequent successful spells with Leicester and Exeter has laid relentlessly solid foundations.
“I’ve always coached everywhere I’ve been,” Parling, 36, explains. “I always coached local sides, whether it was with the University when I was with Newcastle, Welbeck College when I was at Leicester or Taunton when I was at Exeter, and in the professional teams I’ve been with I’ve always assisted with lineouts and various other parts of the game.
“When I’m back in Melbourne now, I’ll pop down to Moorabbin Rugby Club and help, and while it’s obviously a bit of a jump from places like Taunton to where I am now, I just really enjoy coaching so whatever the level I’ll get my hands dirty and give it a go.”
Despite living on the far side of the world, Parling still maintains close ties with Stockton RFC, his beloved junior club on Teesside where he first made his name.
“I’m in a little WhatsApp group there,” he says. “I got in touch with the coaches and said I’d help when I could, so while we’re not flicking each other messages all the time, occasionally they’ll ask a question and Stockton’s a great club to me with a lot of pride there.
“They moved grounds just over a year ago and they’re going from strength-to-strength, so hopefully there’ll be some point soon when they can get going again.
“We all know what sport can do for people physically and mental health-wise, so I do think people need to think about the longer term impacts the current restrictions are having.”
Meanwhile, having helped Exeter to the Premiership title in 2017, Parling believes it should come as no shock that Rob Baxter’s side have reached a Heineken Cup final, and he is confident they can now take the next step towards achieving European domination.
Ahead of this Saturday’s Champions Cup showdown with French cracks Racing 92, Parling said: “I’m not surprised they’ve reached this stage because they’ve shown the consistency over many seasons and been in loads of finals. I know the quality of the people, structures and support they’ve got at that place and I’m very proud to see Exeter in that European final now.
“I take things from certain environments I’ve been in and I think they can go and win it now because of what they’ve created down there. After losing finals to Sarries, hopefully they can get over that last hurdle because I know what it would mean to the area.”