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Thread: Deans set for final crusade

  1. #1
    Champion Contributor Jehna's Avatar
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    Jul 2007

    Deans set for final crusade

    Deans set for final crusade

    By Bret Harris
    February 04, 2008

    ROBBIE Deans is embarking on his last crusade with the best provincial team in world rugby, chasing one more Super title to add to his record of four championships with the Christchurch-based side before taking over the Australia coaching job in June.

    It will be an emotional time for Deans, who personifies the Crusaders, having been the driving force behind the Super 12-14 team as manager or coach in 12 of the club's 13 years of existence.

    The name Deans is synonymous not just with the Crusaders, but with the province of Canterbury, his family among the original European pioneers on the plains. A street in Christchurch is named after the Deans clan.

    Deans, who represented the All Blacks like his great uncle Bob and brother Bruce, played fullback for Canterbury in the 1980s and he is still the team's all-time leading points-scorer.

    He coached Canterbury to its first National Provincial Championship title in 14 years when he took over as coach in 1997 and he has been involved in all of the Crusaders' record six Super rugby titles as coach or manager.

    Although there is something poignant about his last campaign with the Crusaders, Deans is approaching the Super 14 season like any other.

    Deans cannot be any more absolute in his desire to win regardless of the circumstances.

    "Much the same, to be fair," Deans said of his last season. "I'm excited about every crusade. "It's not the last crusade. It's just the last one I'll be involved in. "It's a typical crusade because every year we have a new group. People come and go and it's just part of the life cycle. "It will be special. Every crusade is special for different reasons, some of which we are not aware of yet."

    To gain an understanding of how Deans will coach the Wallabies, you have to study his work with the Crusaders. And that will not be enough because he evolves every year and will be a different coach again, albeit subtly, when this last campaign is over.

    Deans joined the Crusaders in 1997 as manager, helping to pick up the pieces of their bottom-place finish the year before and create the structure that would take the team to an historic three consecutive titles in 1998-2000.

    "I liked being a manager," Deans said. "It was a good foundation for being a coach. "It's a great learning experience, coaching. As an ex-player I entered it with what I thought was a little bit of knowledge. You think because you have achieved a little bit as a player you've got a wee head start, but over time you realise the more you learn, the more you need to learn."

    Deans was the ideal replacement for Wayne Smith as Crusaders coach in 2000, being familiar, yet fresh, and he took the team to the title at his first attempt with a thrilling 20-19 win against the Brumbies in Canberra.

    "That's one of the advantages of continuity," Deans said. "I had an awareness of what they were going through. I had an awareness of what they had been through and that allows me to fit the program to their needs. Empathy is pretty important."

    The Crusaders nullified the Brumbies' famous patterned attack with a defensive strategy that the team's former hooker, and current assistant coach, Mark Hammett, once compared to the Maori Wars of the 19th century. Deans maintains the Crusaders' attack was the key to victory.

    Deans' cutting-edge ideas on attacking rugby, including the notion of "offensive-defence", separated the Crusaders from the pack for a good part of a decade.

    Critics will argue that Deans has had a cavalcade of great players such as Justin Marshall, Andrew Mehrtens, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, whose names will be forever etched in black. But those players had to be discovered, nurtured and managed.

    "I recall having a conversation with Andrew Mehrtens, who was a perfectionist," Deans said. "He set himself unrealistic goals. If he wasn't doing brilliant things, he would beat himself up. "His team-mates would succeed and do well, but he would be down on himself because he hadn't fulfilled his expectations, which is foolhardy because the reality is it is more than just you."

    The Crusaders became the only team to go through a season undefeated when they beat the Brumbies again in the 2002 final.

    But Deans believes the 2005 season, when the Crusaders beat the NSW Waratahs in the final, was when they really came of age with a sense of team being the main characteristic of the side.

    "That year we got to a point of maturity," Deans said. "The group got to a point of collective understanding and I think that's how it manifested itself with individuals who thrived within a team framework. That's the only way it can work, anyway."

    Deans had surpassed All Blacks coaches Graham Henry (Blues) and Wayne Smith (Crusaders) as the most successful coach in Super rugby, his style of coaching changing subtly since 2000.

    "There is, if not a tendency, often an expectation that solutions are big and grand," Deans said. "In actual fact, more often than not, the solution is within rather than without."

    The most significant development in Deans' approach was allowing the players to take greater ownership over the direction of the side.

    "The art of coaching has moved from the coach owns the solutions to a more asking approach and the priority, out of necessity, being the players owning solutions," Deans said.

    The Crusaders set records for points (541) and tries (71) in 2005, enhancing their reputation for creativity and innovation.

    It also underlined Deans' adherence to the principles of total rugby.

    "In the ideal world the more channels and means of attack you have, the greater the stress on the opposition," he said. "Ultimately, what you apply will be determined more by your opposition than by you. The key is being able to recognise the cues and respond where the scope is, where the opportunity is."

    The Crusaders beat the Hurricanes in the 2006 final in a Christchurch fog so dense that few actually saw the game, reinforcing Deans' view that a team is only as good as its preparation.

    Deans was denied a potential three-peat in his own right when Henry rested 22 All Blacks from the first half of the 2007 Super 14 season, including seven Crusaders. The Crusaders were eliminated in the semi-finals.

    Yet, Deans said the tough campaign was one of the most rewarding and satisfying he has experienced as a coach, creating an opportunity for some of his younger players to "sprout" for this season, his last.

    Deans has always said he wanted to leave the Crusaders in better shape than when he arrived, but whether they win the title or not, it could be argued he has already done that.

    He will leave Christchurch to become the first foreigner to coach the Wallabies with the blessing and support of the Crusaders, which means much to him.

    "The Crusaders have been a big part of my life, obviously. You go from experience to experience and that's what I'm really excited about, where I go next," he said. Twelve years ago there was no such thing as the Crusaders. It's more about people than location or entities. That will never go."

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  2. #2
    Champion Skiza's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    Perth, W.A
    No doubt that Canterbury rugby would not be what it is today without the contributions of Deans. This makes me excited to see if he can carry that legacy into his work with the Wallabies.

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  3. #3
    Immortal Contributor The InnFORCEr's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
    West Leederville
    Had the oppotunity to shake hands and meet Robbie over In Melbourne after the game, can't wait to have him on board full time.

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