Robbie Deans last year became the only man to be directly associated with Tri Nations titles for two different countries; returning the trophy to Australian possession 10 years after the Qantas Wallabies had last lifted it in 2001. The previous Australian ‘champions’ subsequently failed to retain the title a year later, losing it to a New Zealand side which had Deans as its coaching coordinator. As well as winning 22, drawing one and losing just four of the Tests played during his involvement for an 81% success rate, the All Blacks won the Tri Nations in both of the years that Deans was on the staff (2002-03), while also reclaiming the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in six seasons during his second season. Returning the latter trophy to Australian possession is one of this year’s key objectives for the Qantas Wallabies coach as he works into his fifth season in charge.
Australia’s first foreign-born coach last year became just the third man to surpass the 50-Test mark as Wallabies boss. In June, he advanced beyond the 57 Tests presided over by Eddie Jones (57 Tests, 2001-05) and the remaining 11 Test appointments for 2012 will see him go beyond Bob Dwyer (67 Tests, 1982-83, 1987-95) to become the most ‘capped’ Australian Test coach. It’s indicative of the modern schedules in the professional era that a tally which will have taken Deans five years to accumulate, was achieved across a period encompassing 11 seasons by Dwyer.
Deans starts the inaugural Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship with a 60% winning ratio (36 wins, 22 defeats and a draw from 60 Tests), which rates in excess of Australia’s historic winning ratio which stands at 50.8% across the 537 Test matches played to the start of August. The rewards from his almost total overhaul of the Wallabies, which has seen 40 new players capped across tenure, are also starting to be reaped. Australia heads into the Rugby Championship in good shape, after shutting out the recent Six Nations Grand Slammers Wales 3-0 in a tight home series through June, in each instance showing greater poise and composure under pressure than the Northern Hemisphere’s best team, to close out the matches by eight, two and one point respectively.
This followed a 2011 which saw 10 of 14 Tests won, winning the last Tri Nations, retaining the Mandela Challenge Plate and the James Bevan Trophy, finishing third at the Rugby World Cup and beating the Barbarians by a record margin in the non-cap match on the Spring Tour. Significantly, despite missing the Rugby World Cup final in finishing third, the Wallabies consolidated their hold on second position on the International Board rankings, having fallen to a record low of fifth following their quarter-final exit under the previous coaching regime at the 2007 World Cup. Despite fielding the youngest squad of the major nations at the 2011 event – with an average age of 24 – Australia has positioned itself as the biggest threat to the current All Black supremacy, with the ‘investment’ in rising talents like star flanker David Pocock, exciting utility back James O’Connor and tricky halfback Will Genia beginning to bear fruit.
Not only have the Wallabies become more consistent in the last 18 months as the team has developed and matured, they have begun to dominate regular opponents, while also triumphing in adverse circumstances more readily. Australia twice came from behind at halftime away from home in Tests last season to win, beating South Africa (Durban) and Wales (Cardiff). Those two nations are among those the Wallabies have gained an upper hand over since Deans took charge. Australia has won six of its last seven against South Africa (including the last four in a row – Australia’s second best winning sequence against the Springboks), and its last seven against Wales (which is also Australia’s second best winning sequence against that nation). Australia has also won five straight against last year’s World Cup finalists France (again its second best run in Franco-Australian relations), with the most recent meeting in Paris at the end of 2010 seeing the then Six Nations champions humiliated by a record 59-16 scoreline. Even the All Blacks, who capitalised on the Wallabies’ relative inexperience through the first three years of the Deans watch, six times over-turning halftime deficits to beat Australia, are now having to tread warily. New Zealand and Australia have split their last four Tests, two matches apiece, returning trans-Tasman relations to a more even keel.
Deans joined the Wallabies in 2008 from the Crusaders, whom he led to five Super Rugby titles (2000, 2002, 2005, 2006 & 2008) and two other finals appearances (2003, 2004) across nine seasons at the helm. In 2002, the Deans-coached Crusaders became the only side to win every match of a Super Rugby season while between 2004 and 2007; the side won a record 26 consecutive matches at home. The first coach in Super Rugby to preside over in excess of a century of matches in charge, Deans ended his time in Christchurch with an overall record of 120 matches played for 89 wins, 1 draw and just 30 defeats – a 74% success rate. As he was also manager of the Crusaders between 1997 and 1999, a period during which the side won titles in 1998 and 1999; at the time of his departure, Deans had been directly associated with all but the first 11 matches played by the competition’s most successful franchise.
His success as a coach started in his first year with Canterbury in 1997 where he returned the NPC title to the province for the first time in 14 years, since 1983 when he had been on the playing staff. A goal-kicking fullback, Deans had a long and successful playing career which saw him capped five times by the All Blacks between 1983 and 1985, including playing a pivotal role in the 2-1 series victory over the Alan Jones-coached Wallabies in Australia in 1984 which retained for the All Blacks the Bledisloe Cup. He appeared on 146 occasions for Canterbury in the pre-Super Rugby era amassing 1641 points, which remains a record despite the prolific point-scorers Andrew Mehrtens and Daniel Carter having graced the Canterbury jersey in the time since.
21 MAY 2013