During the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand Robbie Deans and Quade Cooper found themselves sitting at the window of a coffee shop across from their hotel in Wellington having a ‘chat’.
While not privy to that conversation I would suggest it would have been about rugby, tactics and perhaps growing up in New Zealand.
Nearly fifteen months since those flat whites it would be hard to picture two such polarising figures in Australian rugby catching up for a brew any time soon.
Yet each might actually be the key to the other’s locks in 2013 which is looming to be a definitive year for Australian rugby.
Both Deans and Cooper have ardent supporters and detractors in the Australian rugby community. Despite his recent signing with the ARU, to many Quade Cooper is still a problem that seems too difficult to solve.
To his supporters it is only a matter of time before Cooper replicates his Super Rugby form in the international game. Many suggest the dull conservative Deans game plan is not congruent with the natural talent of the Queensland pivot.
To his detractors Cooper is nothing short of an overrated brat that does not deserve to wear the famous ‘yellow’ jersey.
One thing’s for sure: Cooper loves to play for Ewen McKenzie and the Queensland Reds and this could be a problem for the future of Robbie Deans.
There is little doubt Robbie Deans wants to take the Wallabies to the Rugby World Cup in 2015, yet to ensure his passport is stamped in the ‘Old Dart’ Deans first must convince the ARU he can actually bring back ‘Bill.’
Deans, like a second term government, is starting to get stale with some pundits. They have already begun bickering over his successor.
There is work to be done for the much maligned Cantabrian if he is to be successful in being re-appointed Wallaby coach, with the first step being a series victory over the British and Irish Lions.
Ewen McKenzie certainly would be one of those considered to replace Deans if the position became vacant.
The advantage McKenzie has is that he can extract the best from Quade Cooper. Queensland is a powerhouse in Australian rugby and that mantle has much to do with both McKenzie’s and Cooper’s ability to work together.
Conversely Robbie Deans has never been able to extract the best from Quade Cooper yet, and at some stage he is going to need to embrace Cooper back into the Wallaby fold as he is now an ARU contracted player.
The dilemma for Deans is that he will need to beat the Lions for his coaching career with the Wallabies to progress. Presently it appears Deans does not have the game plan nor the playmaker to achieve that goal.
The brand of rugby the Wallabies played in 2012 was at best willing, at worst woeful; hardly the type of rugby that will defeat the Lions who will bring a power and pace game.
To achieve victory, Deans will need a game breaker in the number 10 jumper which he currently does not have.
Neither Barnes nor Beale have cemented their claim. Each has shortcomings with their kicking games and run too laterally when setting up a back line. Furthermore Barnes has trouble finishing a game and Beale is far from solid in defence.
The potential answer is James O’Connor or an untested Christian Lealiifano, yet while fit there will always be the Quade Cooper option.
The Cooper option is the dilemma. Given the Deans-Cooper relationship it would be difficult to suggest Cooper will be Deans’ first choice, yet as pig-headed as Deans can be, he is no fool.
Deans must recognise that the Beale and Barnes show at fly half and full back is not potent enough. The unsatisfactory choice for Deans might be to actually select Cooper and work with Cooper on developing a game plan to defeat the Lions.
This in itself would be a significant shift in the Deans culture.
If Deans fails and never selects Cooper, the Reds fare well in Super rugby and the Wallabies fail against the Lions Deans can kiss his World Cup dreams goodbye. Olive branch anyone?
The fact is Australian Rugby does have a history of coaches and play makers not seeing eye-to-eye but still getting the job done.
Think of the Alan Jones and Mark Ella relationship. Ella – Australia’s premier fly half retired at the age of 25 citing Jones as one of the reasons. Ella has never been condemned for this, nor has Jones, as each had achieved some wonderful success together.
Deans and Cooper don’t have the Jones/Ella equity with the Wallaby supporters as they have failed to bring sustained success. Cooper and Deans are not in the same class as Ella and Jones as players or as coaches yet each could learn from that history and work together for mutual benefit.
If Deans and Cooper could actually learn to collaborate with each other they might actually achieve their goals and the success Australian rugby starves for. Yet Cooper will have to check his ego and Deans his pig-headedness. Anyone know a good coffee shop?