Rugby: O'Neill gets his man, again

By David Beniuk

SYDNEY - In New Zealander Robbie Deans, the Wallabies have snared their own Guus Hiddink.

Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill's reputation for bagging the big fish - garnered when, as chief executive of Football Federation Australia, he signed Hiddink as Socceroos coach - remains intact.

And, like Hiddink, Deans comes with the legend of the magic touch.

The 48-year-old is indisputably the most successful rugby coach at provincial level in the southern hemisphere.

He has taken the Crusaders, the Christchurch-based team captained by Richie McCaw, to six Super 12 and 14 finals, winning four of them.

At times, they have looked unstoppable and in 2002 they were, winning every game they played in the Super 12.

But his only foray into international coaching - a place he now feels he belongs - left a bitter taste.

As assistant to John Mitchell between 2001-03, Deans was part of two Tri-Nations titles and a breakthrough Bledisloe Cup victory for New Zealand.

The pair's record stands at 22 wins, one draw and just four losses.

But one of those was the All Blacks' heartbreaking capitulation to Australia in the 2003 World Cup semifinals in Sydney.

A country boy, Robert Maxwell Deans was born in the town of Cheviot, population 390, about 100km north of Christchurch.

He boarded at Christchurch's Christ's College and began playing for Canterbury, first as a five-eighth and then fullback, in 1979.

A goalkicker, he still holds the record for the most points in the Canterbury provincial jersey, 1641 in 147 games.

He played five tests for the All Blacks in 1983-84 and was part of a controversial and unofficial tour of apartheid South Africa in 1986.

The Deans legend began in his first season as a head coach, when he delivered New Zealand's prized national provincial competition title to Canterbury after a 14-year drought.

Former Canterbury, Crusaders and All Blacks forward Scott Robertson played under Deans for seven years.

"You're going to get a coach who's extremely thorough and hugely professional," he said.

"He's got the ability to understand the team and what players he's got and how he's going going to work with that to get the best out of it.

"He's got a real ability and nous and feel for the game and players. That's his biggest attribute.

"Coming from fullback, he can see a real big picture of the game. He's not overly technical and he's not a massive ranter or raver.

"He's good at getting people around him and working closely with them.

"He knows what he wants and he creates a structure to get that so everyone's involved. He's very strong on players having the ability for input."

In his recently released memoir, O'Neill outlines how Hiddink nearly slipped through FFA's net.

Deans slipped through the New Zealand Rugby Union's - straight into O'Neill's eager grasp.

- AAP

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