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Lions Tour Adds Spice to North-South Battles

Rugby Union—Northern Tours

By Peter Lalanabaravi Created: October 31, 2012 Last Updated: November 7, 2012
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'Comical Ali' performing the haka ... Ali Williams makes All Blacks despite poor form. (Andrew Cornaga/AFP/Getty Images)

'Comical Ali' performing the haka … Ali Williams makes All Blacks despite poor form. (Andrew Cornaga/AFP/Getty Images)

The three southern rugby giants are ranked one, two and three in the world—but all three coaches are under pressure as they prepare for tours of the northern hemisphere.

Even the New Zealand coach, Steve Hansen, is being criticised, despite the All Blacks being unbeaten under his tenure.

The Australian coach, Robbie Deans, is clinging to his coaching job, despite the Wallabies being ranked second in the world.

South African coach Heyneke Meyer was hailed as a national hero when he got the job this year. Now nine games on, he faces bitter criticism in the republic.

The tours will have added spice, as the UK players know good performances this month will open the door for the prestigious Lions tour of Australia next year.

New Zealand

Hansen was the obvious choice to coach New Zealand. He was a long-standing assistant to Sir Graham Henry, who retired after winning the world cup last year.

But many wondered whether he was good enough to be the head coach. His assistant, Ian Foster, was criticised for having no international experience—he used to coach the Super side the Chiefs.

While Hansen’s side won the inaugural Rugby Championship, many fans and critics are still reserving their judgement on him.

The inclusion of two out-of-form Auckland players, Ali “Comical Ali” Williams and Piri Weepu, was described as “almost offensive” in the NZ Herald.

Hansen defended the selections saying the players brought “a huge amount of experience” to the side.

Hansen talks openly to the press, which is unusual for a NZ coach. Many see his gamesmanship as a flaw, rather than an asset.

Two new players have been selected, hooker Dane Coles and halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow.

Australia

The Australian coach, Robbie Deans, is unpopular—even star flyhalf Quade Cooper described the atmosphere in the Wallaby camp as “toxic”.

Deans has a reputation for being autocratic and for being unable to get on with strong-minded players or assistants.

While many fans would like to see the back of Deans, there is no obvious successor, though the coach of the Queensland Reds, Ewen McKenzie, is mentioned.

Deans is probably safe as the Lions visit Australia next year. The Lions is a combined British Isles and Northern Ireland side.

Few people feel comfortable about changing coaches this close to the Lions tour, which is a highlight of the Australian rugby calendar.

However, losses on the northern tour might force a change. Australia plays France, England, Italy and Wales.

Nathan Sharpe has been retained as captain, despite the return from injury of former captain David Pocock.

South Africa

Heyneke Meyer was hailed as a saviour of South African rugby when he was appointed in January. Following losses to the All Blacks and the Wallabies, and a draw with Argentina, Meyer’s halo has slipped.

Meyer was expected to replace Jake White in 2008, but the job went to Peter De Villiers. Meyer was a Super coach with the Bulls and was head coach of the Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership.

Fans are upset not only with the losses, but with the conservative style of play under Meyer.

Star winger Bryan Habana is a late injury withdrawal from the Boks. He has been replaced by 19-year-old Raymond Rhule.

South Africa plays Ireland, Scotland and England.

Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.




   

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