Deans vs Henry: the debate continues
Spiro’s article last week “The real McCaw and his Deans dilemma” made a lot of Richie McCaw’s comments about his preference for Henry over Deans after the failed 2007 Rugby World Cup.
McCaw nicely summarised the differences in the two men’s approaches in saying that Henry welcomed robust debate among his assistants while Deans did not.
Spiro went to great lengths to refute the suggestion that Deans’ ‘one man band’ approach is inferior to Henry’s collaborative coaching model and, perhaps by extension, that Deans has underperformed as Wallabies coach.
There are a couple of points that Spiro might like to consider:
Firstly, rugby is evolving rapidly from one season to the next.
Secondly, effective coaching necessitates objective and independent analysis.
International rugby abounds in coaches and teams that fail to keep pace with changes in the game – Australia post 1991, England post 2003, South Africa post 2007. I wonder how many people can name the assistants to the head coach of these sides?
Politics notwithstanding, in each case there was no succession plan and the head coach was more than a dominant personality.
Certainly, Deans has had challenges not of his making: injuries, a weak Super Rugby conference, but can anyone honestly say there is evidence the Wallabies are evolving?
The traditional strength of the Wallabies was attacking play and also an ability to succeed in spite of a lack of depth and a weaker forward pack.
Certainly an argument can be made to say it remains the case that the Wallabies continue to succeed in spite of themselves, but it is clear that the quality of the attacking play has diminished considerably since the retirement of Gregan and Larkham.
Robbie Deans has been the Wallabies coach for six seasons. What is his legacy? Is there a sense that the next coach can build on what Robbie has achieved?
Spiro and others may point to defence and the attainment of the number two world ranking as clear evidence of achievement under Deans, but that’s specious.
Defence is considerably simpler to develop than attack and rankings are only as meaningful as the competition is strong and stable which, among teams ranked from two to eight, it isn’t.
By comparison with Deans’ Wallabies, Henry’s All Blacks reasserted dominant forward play, unequalled attacking play and, most impressively of all, seamless succession.
There is little comparison between Henry’s record and Deans’ and the only reasonable conclusion is that the collaboration model is vastly superior to a dominant leader approach.
Coaching must evolve and it is very easy to see how a cohesive group of intelligent minds will trump one individual, even one as intelligent as Deans.
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