Australians put on a far from united front
Letter from Sydney
Even the Wallabies’ lengthy casualty list last year didn’t afford Deans much escape from increasing criticism. He is under contract to the end of this year but both Ewan McKenzie, head coach at the Reds, and Jake White at the Brumbies, are loudly hailed as contenders to replace him next year. Indeed, McKenzie openly covets the Wallabies job after four years with the Reds, during which time he guided them to their first Super Rugby title.
In all of this, it’s hard not to believe that in not releasing any of the seven Reds in the Wallabies’ squad for last Saturday’s meeting with the Lions – a full fortnight out from the first Test – Deans would not have wanted McKenzie’s team to take the tourists’ scalp before he had a chance to do so.
This in turn would only have made McKenzie, an assistant coach to Macqueen 12 years ago, more determined than ever that the Reds put their best foot forward against the tourists.
By contrast, two players apiece from the Waratahs and the Brumbies have been released for the next two tour matches. That said, all bar the injured Digby Ioane of the seven Reds might actually feature in the match-day 23 in the first Test.
Admittedly, in addition to the four players released by Deans yesterday, current ARU chief executive Bill Pulver has released players from the Australian Sevens World Cup training camp, yet it still doesn’t seem anything like the unified front of 12 years ago .
Even allowing for how Quade Cooper polarises opinion, it was striking to note how John Connolly and Brendan Cannon criticised Deans’ exclusion of the mercurial outhalf.
Thus far, there has been no demonising of the Lions this time round. Perhaps it helps the tourists are not so Pom-oriented. Furthermore, of course, Rugby League and the AFL do not want the tour to do well.
Admittedly, the Wallabies were unpopular under Eddie Jones and captain George Gregan when, in 2003, they defended the World Cup on home soil, before suddenly the media rowed in behind them for the semi-final and final.
Similarly, patriotism might yet take over as the first Test looms into view, or if the Lions win in Brisbane next Saturday. But it wouldn’t have needed that jolt a dozen years ago.