Australian rugby is riven with “xenophobic antagonism” generated by “an unholy alliance” of rugby legends, according to Sydney’s leading conservative newspaper.
Rugby writer Spiro Zavos was responding to widespread calls for the sacking of Australian coach Robbie Deans.
Zavos wrote that Deans, a New Zealander, had been given “the disgraceful nickname Dingo,” which by “nasty implication” meant “untrustworthy.” He said that the idea had been “laundered” into an argument that only an Australian should coach the Wallabies.
“Deans has never been accepted as a legitimate Wallabies coach by an unholy alliance of recalcitrant former coaches, players, rugby power brokers and commentators who want to take over the ARU from the establishment,” Zavos wrote in “The Sydney Morning Herald.”
Zavos undermined part of his argument. He wrote in 2008 that the nickname Dingo was an “ocker canonization” of Deans.
Whether an alliance exists or not, the pressure is getting to everyone in Australia. It was not the two losses against the All Blacks, but the manner of the losing.
The Wallabies appear to have no plan, either on the field or regarding selections.
This has led to criticisms of Deans by people such as former Australian coach Alan Jones and former Australian captain Andrew Slack.
It also led to “insiders” saying Deans was about to be sacked.
Zavos lent weight to these rumors, saying it was “understood” that Deans was being considered as a prospect to coach the Sydney-based SuperRugby side, the Waratahs.
Statistically, Deans’s record is poor. The worst results are against New Zealand, with three wins from 17 games.
On the other side of the ledger, the Wallabies are ranked No. 2 in the world.
Plans, predictions and rumors aside, Deans holds his future in his own hands.
Australia meets South Africa in Perth on Saturday Sept 8. A Wallaby win would be a stay of execution for Deans. And a very big feather in his cap.
But the team is not performing, the coach is under threat and, reportedly, the ARU is about to be stormed.
Springboks underdogs against Wallabies
According to Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, that means the Boks are “probably the underdogs”.
Meyer, too, is under pressure in South Africa, following the unexpected—and lucky—draw with Argentina. The Boks fans see no All Black style innovation and a poor record at the breakdown, a traditional strength.
Criticism has been widespread in South Africa, with world-cup winning former Springboks coach Jake White saying Meyer’s conservative style of play would lead to losses.
Another former Springboks coach, Nick Mallett made a detailed analyses of play, showing poor individual skills, a lack of intensity and a lack of direction.
In the face of this criticism, Meyer has stood by both his plan and his players. He said experience had shown him that stability was required in times of pressure, not change.
“The game plan is the same one that wins world cups,” Meyer said, “and it’s a game plan that suits the Springboks.”
That plan is based on forward superiority and aggressive back-line defense.
Meyer said his side was still adjusting to his ideas, so he was expecting improvements against the Wallabies in Perth.
With refreshing candor, Meyer gave this insight into coaching.
“You change the game plan week-by-week depending on the opposition, but they’re just small tweaks and you still play to your strengths.
“This whole thing about game plans is totally romanticized and unrealistic.
“Eighty per cent of the game plan is the same for every team in the world and there’s no such things as Plans B, C, or D … you can’t get to Point E on the field if you still haven’t covered Point A.”
Pumas hopeful against All Blacks
While on planning, Argentina take on New Zealand in Wellington on Saturday also.
With a comprehensive draw against South Africa, the Pumas must feel … well, hopeful. The All Blacks have played with high-speed precision and have game-breakers in several positions.
But, behind the scenes, former All Black coach Graham Henry is now an assistant coach with Argentina. Having won the world cup with the All Blacks only last year, Henry has a clear insight into the New Zealand team.
All Black half-back Piri Weepu said Henry’s input would bring no changes to the Puma style. Argentina’s fundamental strengths would remain the same, though honed.
Still, a master coach can sometimes see things that others can’t. And can explain them simply. At the least, former headmaster Henry will give the Pumas a lesson in training, All Black style, which should be inspiring in itself.
Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.