Deans relishes Lions test

2013-04-11 10:49
Robbie Deans (Getty)

Sydney - To say Australia coach Robbie Deans has had a tricky year leading up to the British and Irish Lions series would be something of an understatement.

The New Zealander has faced a constant barrage of fire from his many critics, including former Wallabies, previous coaches and even, in the case of flyhalf Quade Cooper, his own players.

After making do with an injury-ravaged squad in 2012, he has lost one of his best players, flank David Pocock, to injury for the season and seen another, Kurtley Beale, stood down indefinitely for fighting with his Melbourne Rebels team mates.

Deans, however, is not a man to look for sympathy or reach for excuses. In fact, the 53-year-old former All Blacks fullback is clearly not overly fond of the talking side of his job at all.

"Words are largely irrelevant. The deeds that matter most are done on the field," he wrote in an instructive introduction to the 2012 Wallabies media guide.

That approach can sometimes make him an uncomfortable media presence with frequent pauses punctuating his answers as he considers the potential impact of his words.

But despite other coaches apparently lining up to replace him and all the flak he takes, ask him whether he still enjoys his job and there is no hesitation.

"Love it, love it," he answers before the question is even complete. "It's a privilege and a responsibility to do what I get to do. I understand the responsibility.

"The fact there's interest is good. There's always people waiting to do what we do, it doesn't matter, it's part of the territory.

"The important thing is to make the most of the time that we have. Because it is only temporary, for all of us," he added in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Deans is in his sixth season in charge of Australia since crossing the Tasman sea from the Crusaders as the most successful ever Super Rugby coach.

For much of that time he has kept the Wallabies second in the world rankings behind the All Blacks but Australia has great expectations and third place at the 2011 World Cup and a single Tri-Nations triumph have not been enough to silence the critics.

Now comes the challenge of facing off against the best Britain and Ireland can offer and again there is no pause when Deans is asked where the series sits in his career highlights.

"It's fantastic, I've been very lucky in what the game has offered me in terms of experiences and challenges and life lessons," he enthuses.

"This is the ultimate in many ways, just because of the fact of its scarcity. I've had an insight from a playing perspective and I really want to use that background to assist this group to do well."

That playing perspective came from the 1983 Lions tour to New Zealand when Deans scored 18 of Canterbury's 22 points to lead his province to victory over the tourists in Christchurch.

Over the next two months, Deans will be attempting to transmit to his youthful squad the message that matches against the Lions will be unlike almost anything they have experienced before.

He might start by showing them video of Wales hammering England in the final clash of the Six Nations - a match that might heavily influence the make-up of the party selected by his Lions counterpart and compatriot Warren Gatland.

"That game in isolation was a good an example of what the series is going to be like, it was played at an intensity and a pace that was unprecedented previously in the Six Nations," Deans said.

"That match, where blokes were peaking for a Lions jersey was living proof of the meaning and the passion that's coming."

As for his own playing stocks, Deans has been forced by a catalogue of injuries to embrace a wider, and wider, pool of players over the last year and he remains a fixture at Super Rugby matches on the lookout for late bolters.

"To be frank, there's not many we haven't used," he laughed. "We used 41 last year and there were 11 we couldn't use because they were injured.

"We observe a lot, and we certainly don't close the door until such times as we have to resolve the squad.

"You can't presume that blokes are going to be upright and that has been a contributory factor to our lack of continuity in the past," he added.

"Hopefully we'll have a full muster to consider when it comes to selection time."

One certain selection for the three tests in June and July should he remain fit is scrumhalf Will Genia, who has just returned from knee reconstruction surgery.

"Willi's return was impressive," Deans said. "It's seldom that a player who has an ACL injury returns as effectively as he did."

The consensus in Australia is that if the Wallabies lose to the Lions, Deans will be out of work when his contract runs out at the end of the year, even if he would clearly like to stay.

"I think the best rugby for this playing group is ahead," he said. "They're coming to a point of maturity. They're getting experience and most importantly, they're getting some training age.

"The physical challenges we have faced are a result of our relative lack of time in the game but we'll get beyond that and you'll have a young, able and experienced group, and it's very exciting."

Characteristically, Deans will not be "wasting his breath" with predictions of how the series will pan out.

"We'll select a group, we'll have belief in our group and we'll get on with doing what's required."

Read more on:    australia  |  robbie deans  |  rugby

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