No man is an island ... Robbie Deans on the sideline at Auckland's Eden Park last week. Photo: John Selkirk
THIS week a xenophobic antagonism towards Robbie Deans has emerged in mainstream media. It is being asserted publicly that a New Zealander - and an All Black to boot - can't be trusted to coach the Wallabies to victories over the All Blacks. This is Australian rugby's equivalent of a Barack Obama Birther controversy.
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. He was given the disgraceful nickname "Dingo" on being appointed. Now, following the losses to the All Blacks at Sydney and Auckland, the nasty implication behind the nickname (''untrustworthy'') has been laundered into the argument that the national coach can only be an Australian.
The proof of this contention, so the dingo line of argument runs, lies in the number of defeats suffered by the Wallabies against the All Blacks on the Deans watch. After the Wallabies went down to the All Blacks 22-0 at Eden Park last weekend, a shaken Deans told journalists that his side had been given a "masterclass in rugby" by the best team in the world. This comment was seized on by the Birthers as a capitulation and an excuse by a coach whose heart wasn't in the contest.
Anyone who knows anything about Deans will understand that the personal attacks on him as a sort of All Blacks stalking horse are nonsense. There is no team in the world with a winning record against the All Blacks. Colleague Josh Rakic has produced statistics in the Herald that show that since 2008 the All Blacks have won 84 per cent of their Tests. Only South Africa (45 per cent winning record), France (20 per cent) and Australia (18 per cent) have won Tests against them during this time. Deans's Wallabies account for almost a third of the 10 All Blacks defeats since 2008. The Wallabies won the Tri Nations last year for the first time in a decade. And two years ago they defeated the Springboks at altitude for the first time in 47 years. This year the Wallabies defeated Six Nations champions Wales in three successive Tests. And they are ranked No.2 in the world. This is not the record of a stalking horse.
Another point the Birthers overlook is that careers trump national identity in rugby's professional era. Does anyone believe that Zimbabwe-born David Pocock feels less of a Wallaby even though he wasn't born and brought up here? Quade Cooper grew up in New Zealand dreaming of being an All Black. Does anyone believe he isn't passionate about playing in the Wallaby colours? Digby Ioane also grew up in New Zealand. He was Australia's best on the field in the loss to the All Blacks in last year's World Cup semi-final. After Saturday night's thrashing he was close to tears in the Wallabies' dressing room. Did the South African-born and bred Daniel Vickerman play like a dingo against the Springboks? Did Clyde Rathbone, who was being groomed as a South African captain, play dead for the Wallabies against the Springboks? Hardly. He scored a try with one of his first touches of the ball.
The Birthers accept players from other countries playing for the Wallabies, even when they are made captain. They accept Super Rugby coaches such as Jake White, the South African in charge of the Brumbies. Why is Deans, as the Wallabies coach, singled out as an exception?
A fog of rumours moved through the Australian rugby community this week. Peering into this fog for signposts, it seems that Deans will have to coach the Wallabies to victories against the Springboks and the Pumas in Australia, and the Pumas in Argentina, to save his job. A win against the Boks in South Africa, as well, would be decisive. It is understood, too, that the Waratahs and the NSWRU are considering offering him the job of coaching the Waratahs. If this happens, the Waratahs' gain is a loss for the Wallabies.