Wallabies: five things learned from Sydney

Brett McKay Columnist

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    Wallabies coach Robbie Deans speaks to the media. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

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    Well, that was a bit of a letdown. There can be no question that the better team won, and there can be even less question that the final result adequately illustrates the difference in class between the two sides over the three Tests.

    When it came to the ultimate moments in the series, the British and Irish Lions were better equipped to deal with the situation at hand.

    Worthy series winners. Clinical. Unrelenting. Deserving. Well played, Lions.

    It also means that with everything that’s been said and done about the Wallaby performance on Saturday night, the five points today are all about the immediate and long-term future of the game.

    If body language means anything…
    Then Robbie Deans was a man resigned to his fate. Deans is a man that doesn’t give up much emotion on the best of days, but in the post-match press conference on Saturday night, he was even more ashen-faced and non-committal than normal.

    Where you might have expected an embattled coach to show some fight, and outline what he still wants to achieve with his young group, Deans offered only “Those decisions will be made by others” when asked about his future.

    Perhaps even more tellingly, Deans was asked directly if he thought he would be able to pull the Wallaby squad together after such a loss, and if coaches and players could regroup in time for the Rugby Championship.

    “I’ve no doubt the boys will regroup,” came the reply, again ignoring the chance to speak of his own involvement.

    It was a very strange situation, and there certainly wasn’t anyone in the media centre left of the belief that Deans would remain at the helm. We’d all just seen a dead coach talking.

    By contrast, Warren Gatland and Alun-Wyn Jones walked into the presser with a stubby and a bottle of champagne in their respective hands, had one last swig each before handing them off to management, and then took their seats to face the hordes.

    Winners are grinners, and losers can please themselves, as they say in the classics.

    An awkward meeting needs to be had
    The ARU board and the accountants need to get together rather soon and establish two major points between them: will it cost more to end Robbie Deans’ tenure now financially, or from a rugby perspective, after the Rugby Championship?

    If the decision is to be that Deans is no longer the man to coach the Wallabies, then do we make the change now, or at the end of his contracted term? If we’ve learned anything from cricket in recent weeks, perhaps it’s better to endure some short-term pain and rip the band-aid off now.

    And the sharks are circling. The reports were already doing the rounds that ARU CEO Bill Pulver and Deans were scheduled to meet, and that it might even be announced as soon as today that Deans would no longer be required.

    Pulver even attempted to play down any reports of Dean’s impending removal, saying that he and the ARU would “not be entering into any speculation or debate” about what moves may or may not be afoot, or which candidates may or may not be in line to be appointed.

    It’s not quite as damning as ‘Robbie has the full support of the board’, but it’s not far off.

    One thing a new Wallabies coach would have over Darren Lehmann is more time. Whereas Lehmann was installed just 16 days out from the First Ashes Test – which starts tomorrow night – the First Bledisloe Test, and the first round of the Rugby Championship, kicks off on Saturday 17 August.

    With four more weekend of Super Rugby to come, too, players wouldn’t be reconvening for another good few weeks yet as well. If the change is to be made, as most believe it will, then it might as well be now.

    Surely now we can end the charade…
    With a new Wallaby coach all but certain, a better but still unconvincing performance in the decider, and with his Super Rugby home changing the keys on him while he was gone, the number of people who think James O’Connor is a genuine top class flyhalf shrinks by the day.

    I nearly choked on a post-tour beer late on Saturday night when it was suggested to me that O’Connor might be headed back to the Force, now that the Rebels have given him the “don’t call us…” treatment.

    But it would seem heading back to Perth with his tail between his legs would be his only option if he does seriously want to play more flyhalf.

    On current form, there’s no way he would be ousting Bernard Foley, his good mate Quade Cooper, or young Matt Toomua, from their no.10 jerseys, even if the ‘Tahs, Reds, or Brumbies were interested in him.

    That only leaves the Force, even if they had Kyle Godwin in mind as a long-term flyhalf.

    Of course, we could just end the charade and get him back playing inside centre well. And he could still do that in Perth, if Godwin was shuffled in one.

    Either way, he’s surely played his last game in the Australian no.10 for a good while now.

    Is it time now?
    I’ve had this long-held belief that for no other reason than an endless supply of flyhalves and tighthead props, Australia should sail into Wellington harbour, plant the flag, and either remind New Zealand of their still-present mention in our constitution, or invade.

    After Saturday night, I’m starting to wonder if it’s not time to dust off those plans.

    Ben Alexander’s best impression of a whack-a-mole game was just unpleasant, and Sekope Kepu didn’t fare much better when he came on, either.

    Therefore, here’s the first challenge over the next month for whoever is the Wallaby coach: identify the best tighthead in the country, add a zero to his contract, and start playing him now.

    If that’s James Slipper, or Paddy Ryan, or whoever, then put them in now. Tighthead is an area Australia has struggled with for years now, and we simply can’t have any more repeats of what happened on Saturday night.

    Of course, if Alexander and Kepu are still the best options, then find the best scrummaging coach in the world and treat them to a month of winter in Australia. If these two are the future, then some serious remedial work is needed. Urgently.

    On the other hand, we could set sail for the east…

    Regardless of the result, the Lions Tour has been superb
    From the spike in tourism, to the seas of red, to the estimated $100 million spent in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney on consecutive weekends, the Lions Tour and their wonderful supporters have put rugby back on the map again in Australia.

    The result hasn’t gone the way Wallabies fans had hoped, but rugby now holds the ground records at Suncorp Stadium, Etihad Stadium, and the post-Olympic configuration of ANZ Stadium as well.

    More than 389,000 people watched the Lions across the nice games in Australia, and after a steady build-up, it consumed the media for the decider in Sydney.

    The result has ensured the ongoing future of the Lions Tour, and that is something that can’t be overstated. Had the Wallabies won, the nay-saying few sprouting misconstrued beliefs of a “glorified Barbarians side” would only have grown more vocal.

    In reality, the Lions Tour is the last bastion of the traditional rugby tour in the current professional calendar, and even if it seems overly corporatised now, it’s still a tradition that can’t be lost.

    It is, of course, something of a windfall for the ARU, too. The challenge now is going to come in the form of what to do with, and how to maximise the effect of, this swelling of the coffers, possible coach severance notwithstanding.

    It is absolutely imperative that the ARU use this windfall wisely across all levels of the game.

    [Ed’s note: Brett’s article was submitted before Robbie Deans was sacked as Wallaby coach]

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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