Robbie Deans is looking a lot older than his 52 winters, and with good reason. The Wallaby coach won’t readily get over the failed Rugby World Cup campaign last year, even though winning the Tri-Nations for the first time in a decade eased some of the pain.
But his major problems are current.
If he was to pick a Wallaby line-up today purely on form, most of his normal first-choice selections would be watching the Test against Scotland in June from their lounge room.
Captain James Horwill, vice-captain Will Genia, Kurtley Beale, Berrick Barnes, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Pat McCabe, Rob Horne, Radike Samo, Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson, the injury-prone Wycliff Palu, and to a lesser extent James O’Connor, would be missing.
And with Quade Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Lachie Turner, Rocky Elsom, and Dan Vickerman long-term injury casualties, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Only David Pocock, Nathan Sharpe, Stephen Moore, James Slipper, and Digby Ioane deserve run-on status. But playing great rugby, and consistently so, fringe-dwellers Scott Higginbotham, Ben Mowen, Tom Kingston, Nick Cummins, and the flying Dom Shipperley have stamped themselves front-line contenders.
And the “unknown” Force full-back David Harvey.
A month ago, only Gordon and Shute Shield followers knew of the 30-year-old who was plucked from nowhere with the Force suffering a spate of injuries. Harvey was handed a four-week contract that should by now be at least two years.
Harvey was been a revelation, and the form custodian of the five Australian franchises.
Which begs the question why didn’t the Waratahs nab him, he’s been right under their noses for four years? And how did the Waratahs lose Mowen to the Brumbies?
That’s all part of the on-going Waratahs malaise. But the Mowen move has been a blessing for the Brumbies, and coach Jake White.
The South African Rugby World Cup winning coach made a master-stroke by naming newcomer Mowen as captain. A bolt from the blue.
In one fell swoop White dismantled the player-power structure that has crippled the Brumbies internally, and given Mowen the chance of Wallaby selection which Deans must grab with both hands.
As a direct result, the Brumbies are on top of the Australian conference, while the defending champion Reds have lost three on the trot for the first time since 2009.
Judging from last season’s heroics, you’d reckon the Reds wouldn’t lose three in the entire tournament. And you could have named your own odds about losing 61-8 to the Bulls, and 45-19 to the Force in successive weeks, giving up 13 tries.
The Reds will snap out of this slump, coach Ewen McKenzie will see to that. And that will improve Deans’ state of mind.
But Deans has another problem with the ARU’s selection of Tony McGahan as the new Wallaby coaching co-ordinator from June to December.
McGahan has been coaching at Munster for the last seven years, and the appointment will clash with Deans’ job description for the last four years.
Is there a bit of Robbie Deans wing-clipping in the McGahan move? The jury is out.
Thankfully it’s only early April.
Hopefully by June 5 and the opening Test of the season against Scotland at Newcastle, the Wallaby stocks will be replenished with the heavyweights back firing.
Anything less, and it could well be a long hard winter of discontent on both sides of the fence.