DEANS: It’s up the ante time for Australian rugby

Robbie Deans Columnist

By Robbie Deans, Robbie Deans is a Roar Expert

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    Australian Rugby union head coach Robbie Deans. AAP Image/Paul Miller

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    As Super Rugby edges towards its mid-term break, and the British and Irish Lions arrival moves ever closer; there is no doubt that the Australian sides have upped the ante on the park.

    In recent weeks, we have seen Australian teams achieve a number of tremendous results, most notably against their New Zealand counterparts, which is a trend we have been waiting a while for.

    This time last year, Australian teams had won just eight matches from 23 starts against their Kiwi and South African opponents.

    At the time of writing, the figure stands at 11 wins, a draw and 12 losses for this year – although the record against the Kiwi teams sits at an impressive eight wins and just three defeats. It was four wins and eight losses at the corresponding point a year ago.

    The latter point particularly is a pleasing statistic and is the result of a number of factors.

    Certainly the impending arrival of the Lions, and the excitement that opportunity is generating, plays a part.

    For many, playing the Lions will be the pinnacle of their careers, and I’m not just talking about in the three Test matches.

    It must not be forgotten that the tourists will play six other matches in Australia; games that will provide six other playing groups, outside of the Test squad, with the opportunity to experience both the Lions and international rugby.

    So what we are seeing is enthusiasm across the board: players are not just bidding for Test spots, they are also bidding to make sure that, if they miss out on the Wallabies, they will get a shot at the tourists for their States.

    But it would be simplistic to attribute the raising of the bar in Super Rugby solely to the Lions.

    Undoubtedly our teams have prepared well.

    That has shown through in the level of on-field organisation that is apparent: the level of clarity and understanding of the playing method is evident across all five states, as is the collective buy in of the players to that method.

    Strides have also been made on the injury and rehabilitation front.

    Injury numbers are down (touch wood!) and the off field management of these is becoming more proactive, with the addition of the new ARU Injury Rehabilitation Coordinator, who works with the states, monitoring the players work-loads while also helping to map out suitable recovery time-lines and return dates.

    It might sound simple but its importance can’t be overstated.

    The impact was clear in the successful returns made by Will Genia and James Horwill, who were both monitored closely in their rehab by the Reds and the ARU before timelines were set, and a carefully graduated return instituted.

    Both returned with agreed steps: 40 minutes for the first game and 60 for the second, before they were let loose over the full 80.

    This undoubtedly assisted in the two returning to the form of old quickly, which has had a significant impact on their team-mates, the Reds and ultimately Australian Rugby as a whole.

    A more coordinated rehabilitation is one area in which we have taken steps towards the highly successful and centralised New Zealand model.

    Our growth of playing depth across the field is another.

    I said at the time, one fringe benefit of last year’s injury trials – which forced the use of 52 players in the national programme – would be the widening of the player learning and development as a result of that exposure.

    We are seeing that now, with players such as Liam Gill, Ben Tapuai, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Sitaleki Timani, Joe Tomane, Dan Palmer and Nick Phipps standing up to play influential roles for their teams.

    Not only has last years’ experience provided them with confidence in their ability to belong at the next level, and added to their hunger; it has also taught them valuable lessons around the requirements needed to succeed in Test matches, especially in the area of physicality.

    The trends that develop in Super Rugby invariably follow on from what has unfolded during the previous year’s Test season, both in terms of the approach taken by the teams, but also in the way matches are refereed.

    That has certainly been the case this year.

    There has been massive emphasis on the breakdown and on defensive pressure, along with the increase in physical confrontation at the expense of open play.

    That hasn’t made the rugby any less enjoyable, it has just meant that sides that win the collision, and dominate at the breakdown – whether it be by securing the ball, or just as importantly by making delivery messy and slow for the opposition, are profiting.

    We saw that recently in the Reds-Brumbies match, but even more pertinently the weekend before, when three Australian teams beat three New Zealand teams in the same round for the first time in Super Rugby.

    In each instance, the Australian side won while having less of the ball, because they applied the most defensive pressure, dominated their opposites physically and profited from the mistakes that pressure forced.

    These are attributes the Wallabies didn’t always get credit for last year, when the players held their nerve to win eight of the nine Test matches we had that were decided by margins of a converted try of less; games where our relentless pressure ultimately got us over the line.

    Pleasingly the players have taken these habits back to their franchises and added to them.

    This is indicative, both of their own personal development, but also of the collective maturity that is beginning to show across a broad spectrum of the potential Wallaby playing group.

    All of which offers great promise for the challenges ahead.

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    The Crowd Says (188)

    • April 29th 2013 @ 8:08am
      Billy Bob said | April 29th 2013 @ 8:08am | ! Report

      Thanks for your thoughts, Robbie.
      I happen to agree with your assessment of Aussie player development this year, at least in part.
      No doubt by the end of the responses on his thread you’ll have a truck load of selection and game plan suggestions too.
      Looking forward to see what you can do with the current crop.
      Best wishes.

    • April 29th 2013 @ 8:10am
      cm said | April 29th 2013 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      Thanks Robbie, it’s always valuable to get the coach’s thinking without filters or surmisal. Ewen McKenzie’s columns are similarly informative.

    • April 29th 2013 @ 8:12am
      eagleJack said | April 29th 2013 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      Robbie, it must be a nice headache to have fit and firing players across the board demanding selection.

      As you say the one positive of having to have blooded so many in the national programme due to injury is that we finally have player depth in Australian rugby. This is not a minute factor that should ever be overlooked. It bodes very well for the future.

    • April 29th 2013 @ 8:15am
      Amateur Hour said | April 29th 2013 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      Who are you going to select at 10?

      C’mon, we won’t tell!

    • April 29th 2013 @ 8:16am
      Red Kev said | April 29th 2013 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      Quite a coup – another column from Robbie Deans – thanks to The Roar and Robbie for making it happen.
      This is certainly shaping up as the year you’ll have the best selection depth available and hopefully that translates into the best Wallaby performances of the recent past. I hope too that you’re taking some lessons from the Super Rugby coaches – one obvious example being that Cheika has gotten the best out of AAC by leaving him in the no.13 jersey rather than moving him around the backline.
      I do admit to being very concerned over some of the names you named as influential players as they no doubt are in your mind for selections – Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Nick Phipps? The Wallabies can do better than that.
      Looking forward to the squads being named this month (although I know the Wallaby squad is only a provisional 25).

      • April 29th 2013 @ 11:16am
        bigbaz said | April 29th 2013 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        Yes Red Kev, but he didn’t say whether it was good influences or bad. I’m gunna take it as the latter!

        • April 29th 2013 @ 1:11pm
          A Different Cat. said | April 29th 2013 @ 1:11pm | ! Report

          Dennis has played well in the last few weeks.

          • May 1st 2013 @ 12:25am
            Reginald Munday said | May 1st 2013 @ 12:25am | ! Report

            Yep, a couple of good weeks for the Tahs = test form…apparently

            Everyone else? A couple of good seasons and maybe, if there’s enough injured Tahs, you might get a shot

      • Roar Guru

        April 29th 2013 @ 1:32pm
        The Bush said | April 29th 2013 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

        I know where you’re coming from Red Kev, but I suspect Deans did not mean that they are at the front of his selection mind, but rather they were developing well off the back of their experience last year.

        There is so way in the world that Phipps will stay ahead of White (and with Burgess returning you’d think he’d drop to fourth on the list), whilst it would seem impossible that Dennis would be selected ahead of Mowen, MMM or Higgers (and in my opinion I wouldn’t select him ahead of Quirk or Auelua, though I appreciate peoples fears of rookies in big series).

        • April 29th 2013 @ 1:39pm
          Red Kev said | April 29th 2013 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

          I hope so, but it cannot be argued that Mr Deans has form when it comes to bewildering selections.

          • April 29th 2013 @ 3:53pm
            BetterRedThanDead said | April 29th 2013 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

            Just as long as that muppett Horne doesn’t make an appearance. That he ever slipped on a Wallabies jersey is extraordinary.

            • April 29th 2013 @ 7:33pm
              Amateur Hour said | April 29th 2013 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

              Hands off our Horne.

              He’s streets ahead of Ant Faingaa, but I suppose you’d be happy for him to be in?

              • April 29th 2013 @ 8:31pm
                cm said | April 29th 2013 @ 8:31pm | ! Report

                Fortunately for everyone, Rob Horne is now playing inside-centre, where I always thought he should be. He’s not a 13, never was.

              • April 29th 2013 @ 10:56pm
                BetterRedThanDead said | April 29th 2013 @ 10:56pm | ! Report

                Nah. Love Anthony but he is way too slow. His botched attempt in the corner against the Brumbies was painful to watch. Reckon Higgers would have made it over pretty much untouched given the same circumstances.

                His defence is monumental however. Unlike Mr Horne who is pedestrian in attack and defence.

    • April 29th 2013 @ 8:34am
      nickoldschool said | April 29th 2013 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      Thanks for touching base with the supporters, always nice to hear directly from the national coach (although it was a bit too general and PC for my liking!).

      Yet, I am glad RD stresses that the Lions tour will be about the whole of Australian rugby, the provinces etc, not only the 25-30 wallabies who will play the three tests.

      Question: is he going to have a little pep talk with every franchise involved prior to the series? I think it would be good to have everyone on the same page and to stress what’s expected from everyone involved.

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