Deans is in an unenviable situation as he ponders the next fixture in this Tri Nations series : a re-match in his home town of Christchurch next Saturday which threatens to heap humiliation upon humiliation.
What Options Are Available to Deans?
There is no doubting that Deans has been and is a great coach. There is no doubting also that John O’Neill at the Australian Rugby Union, effectively Deans’ boss, will be distraught this weekend as he surveys the immediate wreckage and assesses where to now for Australian rugby.
To be fair to Deans, the crisis he faces now is not of his making, although the fact that he is a New Zealander will assist the axe grinding of those who viewed his appointment in the first place as a sacrilege.
Rugby union is a long way behind the AFL and the NRL in terms of its structure and visibility to and attendance by the paying sporting public. It exists in small enclaves only and the lack of success of this current Wallabies’ side only attracts contempt from a public whose expectations probably outstrip the ability of this side to deliver.
Both in New Zealand and South Africa there is an organisational structure which allows players from semi-professional provincial tournaments to make the step up to Super 14 rugby, which is in itself a stepping stone to test match rugby. The Australians do not enjoy this luxury, the gulf between their club rugby and super rugby being immense. Player development is not as efficient and this is glaringly obvious now as Deans struggles with a lack of depth in the playing resources available to him.
Wallabies: Backline Riches, Forward Fragility
The Wallabies have lost the likes of all-time greats Stephen Larkham, George Gregan and George Smith in the recent past and it is no surprise that they have struggled to replace them.
There has been relative success in replenishing back line resources. Will Genia is a wonderful young scrum half and even the great Gregan has spoken about Genia one day surpassing his legendary feats. Genia has also been identified by many critics of the game as a future Wallabies skipper. Outside Genia, there is an abundance of mid-career and developing talent : Matt Giteau, Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Rob Horne, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale.
Amongst the forwards prospects are not quite so rosy. Skipper Rocky Elsom and new openside flanker David Pocock are the current stand-out performers, although veteran lock Nathan Sharpe is enjoying an Indian summer in his career. Ever since the last World Cup, when they were demolished by the English at the quarter final stage, the Australian scrum has creaked. There is a lack of presence, bulk and experience. Injuries have depleted what talent has emerged but there is little coach Deans can do to effect a quick fix in this area of play.
Will Deans Survive Until the World Cup?
Suddenly, this is a question that will be asked more and more, especially if the Wallabies come unstuck again in Christchurch. The chances are that they will. Deans’ reconstructionof this Wallabies side has been methodical and purposeful, the performance a week ago against the Springboks offering some hope that the progress being made was sustainable at the highest levels. But the All Blacks have ruthlessly raised the bar, leaving contenders for their world no.1 ranking floundering in their wake. A Deans resignation or sacking during this Tri Nations is now a distinct possibility.
Wallabies In Crisis
Coach Robbie Deans and the rest of his coaching team have a seemingly impossible task to perform in the coming week. How to motivate a side which must know that it is a long way second at present to an All Black side taking the international game to new standards of play.