Planet Rugby

The unbearable lightness of Deans

04th October 2012 13:20

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SKY_MOBILE Robbie Deans - Australia - 15/9/12

Under pressure: Robbie Deans

Should Robbie Deans get the sack if Australia lose this weekend? The Crooked Feed examines the case against him.

15 James O'Connor, 14 Lachlan Turner/Joe Tomane, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper/Rob Horne, 12 Christian Lealiifano/Berrick Barnes, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Higginbotham/Ben McCalman, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 James Horwill, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Sekope Kepu

Is that the second best rugby team in the world? If not, we could always throw in Digby Ioane, Kurtley Beale and Ben Alexander from the non-crocked list to beef it up a little bit. Even if you still think a fully-fit South African team would be better, the point remains that Robbie Deans has one of the world's finest XVs missing from his squad as he prepares for a game which some believe will decide his future.

You've got to feel for Deans in that regard, because it's difficult to dream up a worse position for a coach to be in. Australia's injury crisis is unprecedented (a situation which can only be attributed to the new length of the Super Rugby season), one of Deans' injured players is doing his best Kevin Pietersen impression back home, and now the Wallabies must take on Argentina in Rosario in what will be Rodrigo Roncero's final international match. Whatever happens, it's going to be emotional.

So what exactly are the charges laid against Deans in the case for his dismissal? From what The Crooked Feed can gather, there are two of them. One is that the results have not been good enough; the other that he is too conservative in his tactics.

Yet if we look at Deans' record this year, the defeat at home to Scotland is the only result that really sticks out. And there were extenuating circumstances there, because the match took place on the Tuesday after a round of Super Rugby fixtures (do you see an obvious Deans enemy developing here?) and several players were rested ahead of the series against Wales, which Australia won 3-0. Subsequent defeats to a brilliant New Zealand side and away to South Africa should be perfectly forgivable.

The second accusation therefore looks more serious, and it has come from several quarters - most notably from Quade Cooper and former Australia coach Alan Jones, who told LiveSPORT ahead of the second Bledisloe Test: "Many of the boys in the Australian team believe the preoccupation is with trying to avoid defeat rather than trying to secure victory. You can't win a game of football without the football. What do we do? We kick it away."

Given that Jones' interview was tinged with xenophobic angst - "Who the hell invited a New Zealander to coach Australia? That's ridiculous," he said at one point - his credibility was perhaps a touch compromised, but his point clearly resonated because it was the basis for Cooper's "toxic" rants last week.

Of course nobody is quite sure what Cooper's agenda is either. In the absence of comment from more level-headed Wallaby players it's been difficult to know exactly how Deans is perceived inside the camp, although two come-from-behind victories - against South Africa and Argentina - did not exactly point to a side who have lost the desire to play.

That feeling has been backed up in the last couple of days as Drew Mitchell, Sekope Kepu and Digby Ioane all dismissed Cooper's comments. Although none of them gave Deans a ringing endorsement, Ioane's comments were probably the most telling since the winger is a close friend of Cooper's.

"I was surprised I guess but that's Quade and his situation," Ioane said. "It's a bit crazy but that's his business. I've got nothing to say about him. It's a really good spirit ... everyone has been tight and everyone is enjoying everyone's company but we just have to deliver on game day."

Going back to Deans' tactics, he can hardly be blamed for conservatism when he's been without many of his most creative players. And it's difficult to gel an injury-hit side together when you lose a further two or three players each week. Often all you can do is plug holes.

That's certainly where Deans is at this weekend, and even some of the Australian writers have conceded that a win in Rosario would be an upset. That being the case, would it really be fair to give Deans the sack? The Crooked Feed would say that it isn't, and then don our tin hat in expectation of a minor bombardment.

But the Australian Rugby Union will have to make a decision one way or another next week, because if they're going to bring in a new coach then they'll need to at least give him the end-of-year tour to bed in ahead of next year's Lions tour. The pundits have predicted a cracker of a Test match in Soweto on Saturday but the more intriguing clash may well be taking place in Rosario.

This is an extract from our free weekly newsletter, The Crooked Feed. To read more and stand in line to win lots of weekly prizes, subscribe by clicking HERE.

Tristan Holme

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