Coaches from small-town Australia take England to success
Australians from small towns have been appointed to coach English national teams across three sports, and they are seeing early success, writes Phil Mercer.
A close-knit Queensland farming community, a whiskey-making port in Tasmania and an inland city in New South Wales that boasts a 15-metre model sheep called Rambo are the home towns of three maestros handpicked to restore the pride of Australia's greatest sporting adversary.
In appointing Wayne Bennett, Eddie Jones and Trevor Bayliss to respectively coach English Rugby League, Rugby Union and cricket teams, the country's sporting leaders have nabbed some of the sharpest tactical minds in each discipline. Although these decisions have attracted controversy, each appointment appears likely to pay dividends.
Jones, born in Tasmania's Burnie, was hired after England's Rugby Union World Cup disaster, but critics initially questioned whether he could adapt quickly enough to the game in the northern hemisphere, where his coaching experience has been limited.
Those critical voices have fallen silent now that Jones has taken England to a Grand Slam - where one team wins all of its matches in Europe's Six Nations Championship - for the first time in 13 years.
In Rugby League, Bennett's replacing of Englishman Steve McNamara stirred considerable ire. Ex-players questioned why capable locals were overlooked, and legendary Kangaroos five-eight Wally Lewis reportedly said that an Australian had no place coaching England.
But Bennett, a stoic Queenslander from the town of Allora, reminded his employers of his credentials when he guided his Brisbane Broncos to a convincing win over Wigan at the World Club Series.
'It took an Australian'
Then there's the cricket. It was expected that England would turn to an Antipodean after Peter Moores was sacked last year. Former Australian pace bowler Jason Gillespie was among the candidates, so it was a surprise to many when Trevor Bayliss was appointed in June, just a month before the start of an Ashes series.
His impact was immediate. England won the series 3-2, and there was more than a hint of green and gold in the ticker tape of red, white and blue celebrations.
It's through gritted teeth that Geoff Kettle, the mayor of Bayliss's home town of Goulburn in New South Wales, reflects on that unexpected result.
"I was comforted that it took an Australian coach to get England there," he says.
Goulburn has claims to fame besides Bayliss; first of all there's Rambo, the oversized Merino sheep made of steel and wire mesh, George Lazenby, the actor who played James Bond in a single film, and soap opera darling Kate Richie, formerly of Home and Away, were born in Goulburn.
But it's the city's athletes, including target shooter Michael Diamond, an Olympic gold medalist, that attract the most attention.
"We have worldwide recognised sports people that have been born and bred in Goulburn, so we are very, very passionate about our sport," Mr Kettle explains.
But will the Ashes-winning coach be on the receiving end of any ribbing, gentle or otherwise, when he's back home?
"Always!" says the mayor.
Wallabies weigh in
The BBC asked two former Wallaby greats about England's recruitment of three of the best coaches in Australian sport.
"It does show other countries' respect for Australia as a sporting nation," says John Eales, pointing out that Australian coaches had also been the architects of British success at international swimming and cycling.
As for Eddie Jones becoming the first foreign coach of the England Rugby Union side, Eales says: "I don't have a problem with it at all. He has a wonderful rugby brain. You've got to take a global perspective on rugby and you want the best people involved at the top level of the game."
World Cup-winner George Gregan also believes that straight-talking Jones will be a runaway success.
"I thought it was a pretty smart choice," the former Wallaby skipper says. "He trains his team like a horse trainer in the sense of getting them ready for the big event. He'll be really clear in his vision of how he wants the team to play."
Of course, foreigners have coached Australian national teams. Terry Venables would rather forget a sorry night in Melbourne in 1997 when the Socceroos' World Cup dream was shattered on away goals by Iran.
Robbie Deans, a New Zealander, was head coach of the Wallabies between 2008 and 2013, while South African Mickey Arthur's short spell with the Australian cricket side ended after a 4-0 series defeat in India.
And more than half of the coaches in Australia's domestic professional football competition, the A-League, were born overseas.
Tony Walmsley, the head coach at the Central Coast Mariners, arrived in Australia from his native Manchester in 1988 after his playing career in the United Kingdom had stalled.
"I came for the adventure. I didn't realise at that stage it was going to turn out to be a lifelong coaching career," he tells the BBC.
The next great summit for Australia's sporting exports to conquer is the English Premier League, Walmsley says. He recently spent time back in the UK with Sheffield United as head of recruitment.
It would be a formidable challenge.
"It is a big gamble for a coach from the A-League to go and take a punt over there and it needs a fair bit of character to do it," he says. "It will require a willing participant to be prepared to enter a world where a demand of winning games is significantly higher than it is in the A-League."