Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Deans' coaching days numbered

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Robbie Deans. Photo / Getty Images
Robbie Deans. Photo / Getty Images

The carnage at Loftus Versfeld has left Australian rugby in danger of disappearing down an enormous hole. It's inconceivable coach Robbie Deans will survive much longer.

The Wallabies were pummelled by the physically powerful Springboks in the Rugby Championship, and are so battered and bruised that the Pumas may be favourites for this week's home encounter despite being crushed by the All Blacks.

These Wallabies are barely able to cover for what appears a horrendous injury toll. The injuries are not bad luck. Poor and physically outgunned sides in rugby's contortions are at a greater risk. The Argentines are no slouches in the muscle department either and will be out to inflict further punishment.

The Wallabies look frail to the point of collapse. Whether Deans is holding a rabble together, caused one, or a mix of both, is hardly relevant any more. When the national side is going this badly the axe must fall - Australian rugby has to find out if someone can do better.

Deans' clinical approach has the team in the casualty ward. If he survives, put that down to his protector John O'Neill's grip on the Aussie game.

Australia might also consider setting off after a horse that has bolted. Rugby standards across the Ditch have generally plummeted since fourth and fifth Super teams were added. The Force triggered the collapse, and the Rebels completed it.

The previous triumvirate of state teams was the perfect mix and produced amazing Australian sides built around a clutch of superstars. Talent that was once unearthed and nurtured, often in Canberra, is now spread far and wide and often in substandard environments. A fourth Super team was inevitable, and possibly justified, but a fifth threatens to bring the house down.

The Rebels have diluted Australia's strength and standards to a dangerously low level, partly through an expanded market for players and agents to zoom around. Players who are simply not good enough have been elevated to Super teams, and the same can now be said for the test team.

The fierce intelligence that drove Australian rugby, typified by Bob Dwyer, Rod Macqueen and Alan Jones on his good days, has been replaced by empty Waratahs promises and players who only talk a good game.

Ewen McKenzie has done an amazing job with the Reds, but a lack of sufficiently good players means he is struggling to keep it going. Remember how Will Genia, the world's best halfback, almost left the Reds for the Force? That told a story.

Australian rugby is now faced with a dilemma - if they do what is best for the Wallabies and concentrate the best players in three teams, the brave new world will be lost. Prop up the brave new world, and the Wallabies and image of the game will suffer.

Expansion is often a juggling act, as a number of defunct league franchises attest. But Australian rugby has travelled too far beyond the limits of the playing stocks. The game is not embedded widely enough to provide, in particular, enough tight forwards to compete, which is why a desperate Brumbies coach Jake White headed to his native South Africa searching for locks.

There are even backs wearing the green and gold now who are an insult to a history that includes names such as Stephen Larkham, Tim Horan, David Campese and Mark Ella. The answer may involve recruiting foreign players, a tactic out of league's new State of Origin playbook.

None of this should save Deans, though. His record, weighed down by endlessly insipid losses to the All Blacks, has also gone past the tipping point. And has the sleeping giant which is often the Springboks been awakened? They could be the best team in the world or at least share that ranking with the All Blacks. We've tipped that before and been wrong.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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