Intense scrutiny having no adverse effect on a relaxed and engaging Robbie Deans
Wallabies coach makes his own big call, restoring veteran George Smith
George Smith in happy mood after learning of his Test recall. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
A feature of the last six weeks in Australia is how Robbie Deans has been the sole voice of the Wallabies’ coaching staff. There hasn’t been a sign of ex-Munster coach Tony McGahan (defence coach), Nick Scrivener (skills coach), Andrew Blades (scrum coach) and Nathan Sharpe (consultant).
Nor is it as if Deans, a Kiwi under intense scrutiny entering his sixth year as head coach and out of contract at the end of the year, is especially comfortable, talkative or revealing in the media glare, but yesterday he has rarely been so relaxed, engaging, humorous and philosophical.
Prior to confirmation of Deans’ selection for tomorrow’s third Test, now conceivably even more possibly his last selection regardless of the result, the ABC Grandstand radio programme yesterday featured an interview with Eddie Jones.
The former Wallabies’ coach from 2001 to ‘05 for 57 Tests, Jones is, in stark contrast, far from reticent and he strongly suggested this would be Deans’ last game in charge, and that the ARU had lined up the 2007 South African World Cup-winning coach Jake White, currently in his second year with the Brumbies.
Another feature of this tour has been the way White, and his Queensland Reds counterpart, Ewen MacKenzie, have been openly touted, on an almost daily basis, to replace Deans. Indeed, it hasn’t been especially edifying and has been more akin to a Presidential election, superseded only by Kevin Rudd replacing Julia Gillard.
As befitting a coach who survived a full four-year terms as Springboks’ coach, White is a helluva politician as well as a decorated head coach who has overseen a rejuvenation of the Brumbies. He hasn’t been shy about expressing his interest in a return to the Test arena with the Wallabies, with England another long-held ambition.
MacKenzie’s candidature has been toned down since he was openly linked with the Irish job when Declan Kidney’s contract was not renewed, and it is understood that White is supported by ARU CEO Bill Pullver.
There has been widespread speculation as to the musical chairs which would follow a change to the head coaching position of Deans, and one of the consequences which has been speculated upon is that McGahan would become the head coach of the Melbourne Rebels.
Deans brushed off a slightly cruel but inevitable question about Jones’ observations earlier in the day with a smile. “First thing, I’m not aware so I’m loathe to comment. Our priority’s Saturday,” he said.
But when he was asked what it was like, as a coach, to make calls that are going to cause huge debate and reaction, ala Gatland’s omission of O’Driscoll, he began being unusually philosophical in that clipped way of his, when you’re never sure if the pauses are interruptions or conclusions.