Robbie Deans (AFP Photo)
Johannesburg - Australia coach Robbie Deans called criticism of him "part of the territory" on Friday and surprisingly praised Heyneke Meyer's Springboks as "innovative" as both men hunt a desperately needed win in the Rugby Championship next weekend.
Facing discontent back home after back-to-back losses to runaway leader New Zealand and scrambling victories over the struggling Boks and tournament newcomer Argentina — and with Ewen McKenzie plotting to take over — Deans said Australia's entire travelling group would face up to the pressure in South Africa.
"You just concentrate on what you've got to do," Deans said in Johannesburg the morning after his squad arrived from Sydney. "It is part of the territory for players and coaches, but when you're part of a team, what you want from your teammate is to be there when it matters. We're (coaches) no different to the playing group from that end."
Australia and Deans have been hurt by a long injury list, complicating the choice in the crucial flyhalf position when Australia plays South Africa at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria in the first meeting between the two on the highveld since Australia's breakthrough win two years ago.
The tourists ended a near 50-year run without a win at altitude in 2010 when fullback Kurtley Beale produced a match-winning performance in Bloemfontein.
That could push Beale ahead of Berrick Barnes for the No. 10 jersey, but although he wouldn't announce yet who his pick for flyhalf was, Deans said both players would likely swap between No. 10 and No. 15 at Loftus.
"You've seen those two blokes play together already and you've seen them in both roles," Deans said, defusing the speculation over who would replace the injured Quade Cooper in the recently problematic position for the Wallabies. "I know people like to know what number they're going to get but it doesn't make a lot of difference in the game. They both function in both areas."
Australia's host is in maybe a more desperate position just seven games into Meyer's reign.
Success in a three-match home series against England in June was quickly forgotten after South Africa's shock draw in Argentina and losses — after leading — in Australia and away to world champion New Zealand.
While Deans has had to fill gaps left by injuries to senior team members like captain James Horwill, David Pocock, Will Genia and playmakers James O'Connor and Cooper, Meyer has had to rebuild completely following the loss of a string of veterans to retirement or overseas clubs.
But Meyer's choice of tactics rather than players has drawn the strongest criticism, with the former Super rugby-winning Bulls coach employing a game plan that relies primarily on kicking.
Deans disagreed with that take on South Africa on Friday and said the Springboks weren't conservative or predictable.
"It's never that straightforward," he said. "Those sorts of suggestions come about, I guess, when people's needs aren't met. I guess we're talking about win or lose. All of a sudden everything's wrong.
"They've been creative, they've been innovative, they scored a great try last week (against New Zealand), and when you look at the detail of them, which we spend a lot of time doing, you can see some of those little points of difference and the aspirations within their game. It (the criticism) is wide of the mark."
Stand-in captain and second-rower Nathan Sharpe backed up his coach. South Africa would combine typical forward strength with the ability to attack out wide at Loftus, said the veteran, who has been handed captaincy duties in his final season of international rugby.
"They're always dangerous, particularly at home. It's one of the challenges of world rugby you want to take because you don't get to do it that often ... South Africans have spoken about it for years but if the game opens up, they'll play that kind of rugby," Sharpe said.
But he added: "I don't think we're concerned about what it means for them. It's what it means for us."