You beauty!!!

Kiwi firms as Wallabies coach

By Wayne Smith
July 07, 2007

NEW ZEALANDER Robbie Deans is firming as favourite to become the next Wallabies coach after meeting again with Australian Rugby Union officials in Sydney yesterday.

So many meetings has the multiple Super 14-winning Crusaders coach had at the ARU's St Leonard's headquarters in recent times that one insider jokingly told The Weekend Australian that "he might as well live here".

According to the ARU's high performance unit general manager Pat Wilson, a friend and squash partner of Deans, the former All Blacks fullback and assistant coach came to the ARU to sit in on a meeting examining the new experimental law variations that will be used in the Australian Rugby Championships and New Zealand's NPC.

"He was in town anyway with his wife and son and going to the (Australia-South Africa) game as one of the punters, so he took advantage of the opportunity to drop in," Wilson said.

Wilson, who first seriously broached the Wallabies coaching position with Deans during a game of squash -- with another game scheduled today -- sidestepped the question of whether he also had taken advantage of the opportunity to further explore Deans' interest in the Australian job.

"We've had informal chats but we've discussed it with a number of people in a very preliminary sense. The key criteria is to get the best candidate," Wilson said.

Deans has been the dominant figure in the 12-year history of Super rugby, the longest-serving and most successful official in the competition with three titles as coach and another two as manager. Under him the Crusaders also finished as runners-up in 2004 and 2005 and this year made the semi-finals despite playing for half the season without their top All Blacks.

As well, he also served as New Zealand backs coach under John Mitchell from 2001-2003, during which time the All Blacks were all but unbeatable.

Former Australia coach Eddie Jones' recommendation of Jake White as a person of interest the ARU should approach in its search for John Connolly's replacement did not draw a reply from the Springboks coach yesterday.

When asked whether he would consider coaching Australia, White's response was to mime closing a zipper across his mouth.

The Wallabies head coaching position will be advertised globally next month but the ARU intends taking a softly-softly approach to filling the job until after the World Cup. Certainly, if the Wallabies perform in France as they have at the past two World Cups, where they reached the final both times, winning in 1999, the pressure will be on the ARU to stick with Connolly's staff of Michael Foley, Scott Johnson and John Muggleton.

No foreigner has ever coached the Wallabies.

It's not just the Wallabies' performance at the World Cup that could determine Deans' prospects of coaching Australia. How his native New Zealand fares could also have a huge bearing.

If the All Blacks finally deliver under the huge pressure of entering yet another World Cup as favourites, coach Graham Henry is expected to be sent off into retirement and Kiwi folklore with the grateful thanks of the New Zealand nation.

Assistant coach Steve Hansen would seamlessly move into the head job, with attack coach Wayne Smith likely to be content to remain in that role.

But despite some evidence of maturity beyond the days of lopping the heads of coaches who fail at the World Cup -- most spectacularly John Hart in 1999 and John Mitchell in 2003 -- it is difficult to see any of the Henry staff surviving if the All Blacks underperform yet again. At that point internal politics might be forced to give way to necessity, with Deans, drafted into the head coaching position.