Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Thoughts with Christchurch as Deans names side

James O'Connor has vowed to regain a starting spot for the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup. 
Photo / Getty Images
James O'Connor has vowed to regain a starting spot for the Wallabies at the Rugby World Cup. Photo / Getty Images

Wallabies' rugby coach Robbie Deans arrived in New Zealand for the World Cup today and his thoughts quickly went to the people of Christchurch, who he says are "going through a very tough time".

Deans, who was involved with the Crusaders for 11 years as manager and head coach, still has close links to Christchurch and is planning to take his team to the city for some activities and fund-raising during the tournament, so rugby fans "don't feel completely abandoned" by the lack of matches there following the earthquakes of the past 12 months.

Deans said: "I'm disappointed for the people of Canterbury. It's been a very tough pill for them to swallow. The challenges still go on there - the earth is still moving and to be honest the challenges will last for a long time. The place will never be the same again so they're going through a very tough time.

"It's a double whammy for them to now sit and watch the World Cup happen around them because they're a very passionate rugby population."

Christchurch had been scheduled several pool matches, including the highly-anticipated England v Argentina, as well as two quarter-finals - one of which the All Blacks are expected to feature in.

There are still many in New Zealand who feel that Deans should have got the All Blacks' coaching job ahead of Henry following New Zealand's 2007 World Cup quarter-final exit, but the man himself is staying diplomatic about any support the Wallabies might get because of him.

Besides, he said, opinions may have changed following Australia's Tri-Nations clinching victory over the All Blacks.

"I suspect after last weekend the lines may be drawn, but hopefully they will enjoy the rugby that we play and get the opportunity to enjoy the occasion because it's going to be good.

"People will choose their own paths. We hope to play some good rugby and we hope to be respected for the rugby that we play and the way we go about our business."

England coach Martin Johnson and several players are scheduled to visit Christchurch tomorrow (Wednesday) and the All Blacks, who consist of 10 players with Canterbury connections, will also visit the city during the tournament.

Australia's first assignment at the World Cup is Italy at North Harbour Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Deans today named an unchanged starting 15 for the match following his side's recent victory over the All Blacks in Brisbane, with three changes on the reserves' bench.

Prop James Slipper replaces Rob Horne, hooker Tatafu Polota Nau comes in for Saia Fainga'a and wing James O'Connor gets his chance ahead of Salesi Ma'afu.

O'Connor sat out the previous match against the All Blacks after he was suspended for missing the Wallabies' World Cup squad announcement.

Australia: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Anthony Fainga'a, Pat McCabe, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia, Radike Samo, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom, James Horwill (captain), Dan Vickerman, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Sekope Kepu. Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Ben McCalman, Scott Higginbotham, Luke Burgess, James O'Connor.

- APNZ

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