Wynne Gray on sport

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Lions place enormous pressure on Deans

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Robbie Deans. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Robbie Deans. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The Lions are a wonderful rugby anachronism and the last link to the heady days when sides made decent rugby tours instead of drive-by test visits.

They also bring some of the best fans in the business, hordes of supporters who deliver the revelry and colour which is usually only replicated at the World Cup.

It is a special moment for the host country and their players who get a rare chance to suit up against the Lions.

Recently retired lock Nathan Sharpe played 116 tests for the Wallabies but missed out on playing against the Lions.

A number of very experienced All Blacks will suffer a similar fate by the time the Lions next tour here in 2017.

Of the current test group, Daniel Carter, Richie McCaw, Ali Williams, Tony Woodcock, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Ma'a Nonu duelled with the tourists in 2005.

Unfortunately that visit was soured on several levels from the time smug coach Clive Woodward picked a bloated touring squad to the antics of media adviser Alastair Campbell in the midst of the first test injury to Brian O'Driscoll.

Carter was in sublime form in the second test as the All Blacks wiped the tourists throughout the acrimonious series.

Since then the Lions have toured South Africa and in June, start their latest venture to Hong Kong then across the Ditch.

It will herald a coaching duel between two Kiwis, Warren Gatland and Robbie Deans, who have been touted but overlooked as All Black coaches.

The heat is firmly on Deans to repeat the series triumph the Wallabies had against Graham Henry's tourists in 2001.

Deans has watched the Brumbies show strong form in the Super 15 and the Reds too as would-be Wallaby boss Ewen McKenzie primes his men. There have been glimpses from the Waratahs, Rebels and Force as well.

Then there is the selection subplot involving Quade Cooper, the flaky five-eighths who cavorts at the Reds alongside the masterful Will Genia but does not produce for Deans at test level.

Kurtley Beale is also hovering on the fringes as he battles his behaviour issues. They will be litmus selections for Deans. If one or both are picked and the Wallabies prosper in the series, Cooper and Beale will get the kudos. If they play poorly and the Wallabies lose, Deans will be shown the exit door.

If they are omitted and the Wallabies lose, Deans will be looking at the situations vacant list anyway.

Should the pair miss the cut and the Wallabies win the series, then Deans will be looking at his contract through to the 2015 World Cup.

That's just a taster of the fascination before the series has even started.

- NZ Herald

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