Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Unmuzzled Hansen kicks 'Dingo'

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Few plaudits and little grace shown to former champion Crusaders coach as World Cup winner reflects.

Hansen's claim ignores the absence of top assistant coaching candidates. Photo / File
Hansen's claim ignores the absence of top assistant coaching candidates. Photo / File

Big Steve Hansen scraped off the jolly image makeover and turned into Bad Santa by delivering another low blow to Robbie Deans.

Sky Television's fluffy pre-Christmas piece celebrating the myths and legends of last year's World Cup triumph was also a reminder of the Grinch-like attitude towards Deans that exists in high places, and elsewhere, if truth be told.

Blokes like Hansen, Graham Henry and Steve Tew owe, in part, their jobs and accolades and even a knighthood to Deans. His brilliant Crusaders empire propped up New Zealand rugby when much else was failing. His struggles as Wallaby boss don't change that history.

The machine Deans created provided the heart of the All Blacks side that sneaked to World Cup glory. This included everybody's favourite old-style lock Brad Thorn, initially discarded by the Henry regime and rehabilitated for the All Blacks cause by Deans.

But oh no, you won't find any accolades coming Deans' way. Ill-feeling about the way Dave Rennie and the Chiefs were overlooked in the latest awards should be nothing compared to how Deans gets treated.

Five titles he won, along with other close shaves including in 2007, when the All Black glory boys decimated his team. In return, he gets another clout from the NZRU's bully boy cabal.

In the fawning Sky World Cup celebration entitled Weight of a Nation, Hansen reckoned Deans had already signed to coach Australia, but went ahead with his All Black interview for a martyrdom he created by deliberately failing to nominate any running mates.

He is right to some degree. The lack of a powerful coaching team was a weakness, but also an excellent excuse for the NZRU to keep its old mate Henry in an effort to clear their names in 2011. Hansen, with modesty dripping from a straight face, suggested Henry survived thanks to his quality assistants - namely Hansen and Wayne Smith.

Hansen's claim ignores the absence of top assistant coaching candidates then, thanks to the NZRU's inability to produce or keep any and the dismal failure of other franchises to match the Crusaders' standards. But given the 2007 World Cup disaster, Hansen and Smith were hardly gold-plated running mates either - Henry's decision not to put forward a new combination was a serious weakness in his own bid.

Deans ain't perfect, or not for every situation, as the Australian experience has shown. As an avowed Deans fan, I'd concede that. But the continuing snide remarks, and lack of a heartfelt tribute to what he contributed to New Zealand rugby, absolutely stinks.

In the Sky piece, Henry did at least acknowledge the overwhelming influence of Richie McCaw in the World Cup victory, and Smith said they could not have begrudged Deans' appointment given his Super 15 record. Maybe the editing made it look this way, but Hansen's uncontested claim was sad, and comes hard on the heels of Henry's bizarre match-fixing inference against 2007 quarter-final referee Wayne Barnes.

Hansen - whose current strike force includes the Super 15 failure Ian Foster and Brian "Aussie" McLean who has never even been a Super 15 head coach - doesn't have a dream team either. Then again, Kremlin favourite Hansen didn't need one as the NZRU wielded its rubber stamp after that gloriously lucky night at Eden Park.

There was no soft ride into the All Blacks job for Deans - personality politics saw to that. He may not have prepared for his interview as he might, but was never given the chance to build a coaching unit. He probably knew he was toast as soon as Henry put his hand up again.

Now, even the All Black catch-cry, that it is a cause beyond all others, is stripped from the former test fullback for those who believe what Hansen infers - that Deans was either a mercenary for Aussie dollars or scared of the job. Just when you feel it's safe to like rugby again ... the arrogance in the New Zealand hierarchy forever threatens to drive me away. Deans deserves much better and I'm back in the place where I hope he wipes the smugness off an All Black coach's face.

- 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.

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