Chris Rattue 's Opinion

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

Chris Rattue: Dire end to reign of out-of-depth Deans

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The walled-off persona of the Wallaby coach - with his cold, useless public utterances delivered through clenched teeth - may have helped to keep success at bay.

That settles that, then. Robbie Deans will leave the Wallabies with a big F for failure stamped on his record after the Wallabies waved a white flag at an angry, red bull.

Finally, Warren Gatland's Lions moved in for a stunning kill. Deans is, according to all reports, past the last legs stage and a new coach will be in place when the Sanzar tournament begins.

He has found many ways to deserve the boot. The consistent theme to the Deans era is that there hasn't been one. Rare steps forward were followed by shuffles sideways or leaps backwards. The salute for Deans' magnificent Crusaders has turned into a scratching of the head while watching his wobbly Wallabies.

Whenever the big boys of world rugby, particularly the All Blacks and now the Lions, turned up to play, his Wallabies were overpowered, leaving any skill advantages stranded. Deans never seemed to understand the physical requirements for test rugby or get remotely close to finding the necessary artillery, perhaps by instigating a recruitment drive for props overseas.

He became the All Blacks' whipping boy, including during the last World Cup, the Wallabies having spent themselves in upsetting the Springboks.

His selections, particularly in the backs, have been amazingly inconsistent. We still don't know who his first five-eighths is. But for the emergence of the fabulous Will Genia, a candidate for best halfback in rugby history, the once marvellous Wallaby backline has become the welcome mat for ifs, buts and maybes.

The Lions' emphatic, stirring and thrilling victory in Sydney emphasised how badly the tourists had played in Melbourne, where Gatland's conservative plan invited another of Deans' career-extending escape acts. Gatland will be lauded, rightly, but his Lions should have won this series 3-0.

One place Deans does deserve defending is the non-selection of Quade Cooper. French and Dutch footballers might get away with searing honesty, but describing the national team environment as toxic is a mis-step too far in rugby. More than that, Cooper lacks the head for rugby heights.

The Wallaby scrum was a disgrace on Saturday night, and Deans' culpability there was only compounded when Sekope Kepu - who made an early entrance for the yellow-carded Ben Alexander - appeared to partially right the ship, suggesting another selection mishap.

Are there any nuggets of gold, apart from Genia, in Deans' legacy? Not really. He steadied a tumbling team, but nowhere close to the level of his reputation. There are damn good and tough test players in the Wallaby squad - Stephen Moore, James Horwill and co - but their battle scars have counted for little.

Deans' persistence is impressive. Less so are the public utterances delivered through clenched teeth, releasing snippets of useless information in a Robbie code that presents interviewers with the chance for hard-won victories that never arrive.

A favourite Deans v media story comes from an acquaintance who recalls a long interview that contained one gem that the coach, in an ensuing phone call, demanded be buried. He's not alone among coaches in keeping the public out of the loop, of course. But a touch of warmth or humour wouldn't go amiss.

Maybe - and this is a random judgment call - that walled-off persona helped count against success in this case because he couldn't get all the necessary parties on board.

His Super 15 reputation remains intact, but Deans' aura has taken a battering. What started out as a tantalising match between a highly organised coach and intelligent if underpowered rugby nation found its apparent, final collapse before the thundering hooves of Welsh, oops British and Irish, rugby. The result mirrored the rest of the maddening, confusing Robbie Deans reign.

Truth be told - and this is from one of his staunchest supporters - he should have been cut some time ago.

Gatland's men kings of rugby for now

The Lions are kings for now but they wouldn't stand a chance against the best of Southern Hemisphere rugby.

All power to Warren Gatland and his red army, and particularly the travelling supporters who turned stadiums around Australia into a crescendo of spine-tingling noise. It was a fabulous test series.

A battle of the hemispheres could be an amazing war of the rugby worlds, perhaps. Would it be Lions v Sanzar, or North v South? It will probably remain just a bright idea.

The Lions wouldn't stand a chance quite frankly. Take the All Blacks' core, add in Will Genia, Israel Folau, Bryan Habana, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Stephen Moore, Heinrich Brussow, Jean de Villiers etc, etc and hey presto. A few mighty Argentine props wouldn't go amiss either. My coach - Jake White. Cohesion established, the Lions would be obliterated.

Gatland has the keys to the Lions' kingdom, if he wants them. His post-series reaction has been stunning, detailing how the "vitriol" over the dropping of Irish sweetheart Brian O'Driscoll ruined the moment. The attacks were led by the northern media, who treat O'Driscoll - a once fabulous player past his prime - as a sacred cow.

Had the British/Irish observers taken their noses out of the history books and observed the first two tests, they would have seen a player still capable of decent defence but incapable of doing much with the ball.

O'Driscoll is tiring, and in an age where a lot of rugby attack involves running into people rather than around them, he doesn't make the extra metres.

The press pack had anointed O'Driscoll the new third test captain in Sam Warburton's absence. His dropping was a blow to their credibility, drawing a defence via attack response. It is a mistake we all easily make at times, relying on old set plays instead of being fresh to realities. Gatland had a hell of a last laugh, the trouble being he ain't laughing.

- 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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