Wellington - "Vested interests" are holding back Australian rugby but Wallabies coach-in-waiting Michael Cheika may be equipped to negotiate the labyrinthine off-field politics, according to the team's former mentor Robbie Deans.
New Zealander Deans lasted nearly six years at the helm of the Wallabies before being replaced last year by Ewen McKenzie, whose sudden resignation on Saturday plunged Australian rugby further into crisis a year out from the World Cup.
Waratahs coach Cheika is expected to take over from McKenzie and inherit a Wallabies team rocked by scandal while dealing with a rugby administration battered by accusations of mismanagement and factionalism.
Deans took the Wallabies to the 2011 World Cup semi-finals but was plagued by his team's off-field problems throughout his tenure, and at media conference in Auckland on Tuesday, spoke of an Australian rugby regime riven by agenda.
"When the worm turns, so to speak, it's challenging," Deans told local media at a launch for his autobiography, expressing sympathy for McKenzie's plight.
"If sentiment turns it depends who drives the agenda and what their end in mind is.
"Having been over there and experienced the environment it's a tough, tenuous environment.
"It's not good for the game to see them struggle. Hopefully they'll respond constructively. It's very important to New Zealand rugby that Australia is competitive and strong.
"They've changed the constitution and have the opportunity to create fully independent governance but they haven't take those steps yet.
"There's still blokes who are actively involved in the game that have vested interests and allegiances and it's getting in the way, no doubt."
Deans survived for five years under former Australian Rugby Union boss John O'Neill but lasted only a few months under current chief Bill Pulver, who has been under fire for his handling of a scandal involving "offensive" text messages about the team's former business manager Di Patston.
Patston resigned under stress earlier this month and utility back Kurtley Beale faces a code of conduct hearing after allegedly distributing the messages.
After hiring McKenzie, who coached the Reds to a maiden Super Rugby title in 2011, Pulver is expected to go for another coach with provincial success in Cheika, who guided the Waratahs to their first championship in the southern hemisphere tournament this season.
Cheika played more than 200 first-grade games with Sydney club Randwick, a renowned Wallabies nursery, and Deans said the 47-year-old knew "the (Australian) context" intimately.
"He's come out of the heart of it, out of Randwick," Deans added. "That was where he was a good appointment for the Waratahs. His personality doesn't get involved in the off field stuff.
"He drives the group to the things that are important and doesn't get distracted by the politics. That will be an asset. He might have to adapt some of his off-field antics."
Deans said despite the Wallabies' problems, which include well-documented financial pressures, Cheika could lift fourth-ranked Australia into genuine contenders at next year's World Cup in Britain if he could get them through their 'pool of death' with England and Wales.
"Cheika is very much an ambush merchant. His flame burns hot so he will get a lift out of the group," said Deans.
"That's the nature of World Cup rugby; it's a one-off event. If they come through their pool effectively they're very well positioned.
"They've got the talent to win the next World Cup. That was evident in their last outing. They've won two World Cups and could be the first nation to win three."