Deans and Gatland in preparation for the big one
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans prior to the Bledisloe Cup match between Australia and New Zealand. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Two New Zealanders – Warren Gatland and Robbie Deans – will have their hands full this weekend, away from their homeland.
And in June the two Kiwis will lock horns for the long-awaited Lions-Wallabies three-Test series. Only the Rugby World Cup is bigger.
Lions coach Gatland will be at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to watch the blockbuster Six Nations finale with Wales trying to defend their crown and England seeking a first Grand Slam in a decade.
Wallaby coach Deans will be at Allianz Stadium tonight watching Berrick Barnes and Rob Horne make their comebacks for the Waratahs after long-term injuries, and at Suncorp tomorrow night to see champion half-back Will Genia’s return to the Reds after a knee reconstruction six months ago.
This Lions tour will define Deans’ Wallaby tenure that currently stands at 71 internationals for 42 wins or 59.2 percent – nothing flash, but it could be worse.
But to beat the Lions at home would be the climax – the utter utopia.
And to do that Deans must have all the best Wallabies on the park.
He’s already been gutted by the loss of probable skipper David Pocock for the season with another serious knee injury, and Kurtley Beale out with a broken hand.
But Genia, Barnes, and Horne coming back this weekend, and hopefully lock James Horwill next week who has been out since May last year with a severly ruptured hammie, and Deans can start getting his act together to do battle with Gatland.
The return of the Genia-Quade Cooper combination for the Reds will be the centre of attention, as will ope-side flanker Liam Gill who has looked the best of the number sevens so far.
How Deans reacts to the sacking of two Wallabies from the Waratahs – prop Sekope Kepu, and winger Drew Mitchell – has yet to surface, but Michael Hooper’s form at open-side will be closely watched.
He’s slipped in intensity since becoming a Waratah.
Then there’s the early Sunday morning clash between the unbeaten Brumbies and the Sharks where Brumbies skipper Ben Mowen, Nic White, and Christian Lealiifano will be on duty.
Mowen is making a bold bid to grab the coveted number eight Wallabies jersey from Scott Higginbotham, White the standby half to Genia, and Lealiifano either the fly-half or inside-centre berths.
Not overlooking the return of Brumbies favourite son George Smith after three years overseas to win back his number seven jersey.
If Deans wants him, and he must, Smith will have no trouble getting a month-long extension from Japan to play the Lions, international matches take preference from the IRB over any franchise.
So it’s all starting to take shape for Robbie Deans, providing the spate of injuries doesn’t go anywhere near last year’s epidemic 35.
The Lions-Wallabies series promises so much, but only if it’s a level playing field.
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