Time for Deans to depart
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Wallabies coach Robbie Deans speaks to the media. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
The Wallabies may have fought back to equalise the Lions series with a tense 16-15 victory in Melbourne last night, but the third Test should mark the end of Robbie Deans’ Australian coaching tenure.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a member of the anti-Deans brigade. I supported his appointment in 2008.
His tenure in Super Rugby showed he is a good coach. His nationality is irrelevant.
Deans inherited a rebuilding Wallabies squad and he has had mixed results. The blooding of several new players, along with the 2011 Tri-Nations title and a breakthrough win on the high veldt in 2010, were highlights.
The hammering of France in 2010 in Paris was another. On reflection reaching a semi-final at the last World Cup, where the Wallabies were beaten by the winners New Zealand, was not a bad result either.
Deans’ Wallabies also defeated Six Nations champions Wales 3-0 last season, have restored some respectability up front and now they go into a Lions decider with a real chance to make history.
On the flip side there have been struggles to defeat the All Blacks, a 53-8 loss against the Boks in 2008, player misbehaviour and disputes, and embarrassments against Samoa, Ireland and Scotland twice.
Overall his success rate as Australian coach is 58.3%, which is not a terrible figure.
Not the greatest, especially comparable to Rod Macqueen and Bob Dywer, but there has been heavy injury tolls to consider and some strains on player depth. International rugby is also growing a lot stronger away from the top five nations.
You only have to look at the emergence of Argentina to see that Test rugby is no longer as predictable as it once was one or two decades ago.
But five years is long enough in the Wallabies hot seat. It is time for some new blood, some new ideas and a new direction. Either Ewen McKenzie or Jake White would bring that. Both would be good choices as Australian coach.
McKenzie may repair the Quade Cooper rift and bring in some free-flowing, enterprising rugby based on the style his Reds side play. He has the experience, both here and overseas, to take on the Wallaby job and is ready for it.
Down in Canberra, White’s reputation continues to grow. He has already won a Junior World Cup in 2002 and the senior World Cup in 2007 with South Africa, boasting a 67% success rate with the Boks.
And the experienced, former high school teacher has rebuilt the Brumbies from also-rans to table-toppers, further strengthening his hand.
At the moment Deans’ Wallabies head to Sydney with a chance to secure a 2-1 series victory. Last night’s game was not a classic by any means.
The Wallabies may have edged the win, again with a last-minute penalty miss but this time by the Lions, but the match lacked the high drama and attacking thrust of the series opener.
This was a Test racked by tension, nervousness and conservatism with both teams below their best and just one try scored. This was one for the purists, one for the love of scrums, penalty kicking and bone-rattling defence.
Both teams tackled well, especially the Lions. But the Wallabies played more of the actual rugby and, in the end, were rewarded. Handling errors and poor ball security almost crippled them.
But in the final stages the Wallabies managed to out enough phases together and find a way through the Lions’ suffocating wall. The Lions were poor in the lineout, missing the contribution of Paul O’Connell, and kicked away far too much ball.
Even Stuart Barnes, the Sky Sport commentator, was forced to admit in the end that Australia “at the very least deserve to be level. They probably played a little bit more rugby”.
Accurate goal-kicking made a massive difference to the Wallabies. Christian Lealiifano lasted more than 50 seconds this time and had a big impact.
James O’Connor was again less than impressive at 10, though he did set up Adam Ashley-Cooper’s try well.
This was also a night for the Wallaby scrum. At times it was shunted backwards but it also won penalties of its own and it stood up when needed – rewarding the high-stakes call by James Horwill to take a scrum five metres out from the Lions in-goal with the game on the line.
The Wallabies looked dangerous when they threw the ball wide and tested the Lions’ rush-up defence.
It was there that they turned the Lions around and made yards. They will have to be again adventurous with the ball in hand in Sydney, and probably do it without their heroic skipper Horwill who may be suspended, to get a win next Saturday.
The Lions could be without their own captain, with Sam Warburton tweaking a hammy.
There is a little bit of concern coming out of the Lions squad. They will be disappointed that they couldn’t close out the game with a six-point lead late in the match and may be a little weary after two tough wars and seven mid-week games.
The Wallabies, on the other hand, may be gaining some familiarity after two matches together.
Will Greenwood certainly thinks so. The ex-England and Lions centre, and Sky Sports commentator said: “With two games under their belt they are getting stronger in my opinion”.
The Wallabies may have a little more momentum their way now but it is still all to be done in Sydney.
Another tense, nervy and dramatic battle awaits. Regardless if the Wallabies win in the NSW capital or not, the green and gold should have a new coach in their ranks next time they run out.
Follow John Davidson on Twitter @johnnyddavidson