Spotted by a horrified Sparko

Rugby: Australia Ready To Rob Deans

5:00AM Saturday July 28, 2007
By Wynne Gray

Long-time Crusaders supremo Robbie Deans will coach the All Blacks or Wallabies next year.

Despite gushing noises this week from the New Zealand Rugby Union when Deans signed to guide the Crusaders through another Super 14 campaign, it is understood they are agitated he will transfer his coaching talents to the Wallabies after that competition.

Noises coming out of Australia will increase that anxiety. Reinvented chief executive John O'Neill barely disguises his union's intentions to headhunt Deans if he misses out on the All Blacks.

O'Neill generally gets what he wants and in his second term as boss he has stated his intention to reactivate his plan to install Deans at the helm of the Wallabies when coach John Connolly vacates his portfolio after the World Cup.

"We will go through the processes. I would like to think Robbie Deans would be a candidate - he would be outstanding," O'Neill told the Weekend Herald.

"He has had a long, successful record, he has been there and done that. I think he has got the right make-up, personnel, man-management skills and culture we want to re-establish in Australia.

"If he was our choice, it would not be a barrier for us if Robbie coached the Crusaders in the Super 14, in fact it would be good for him to be ticking over because coaches are like players, they need to keep involved."

When O'Neill first canvassed the idea four years ago, the Australian union had a policy which banned foreign coaches but that rule has since been overturned.

Deans could not be contacted as he was in meetings yesterday but it is understood his renewed Crusaders contract, with an option for 2009, allows him to take up alternate employment after next year's Super 14.

His extensive coaching career started with Canterbury in 1997 before he won two Super rugby titles as manager of the Crusaders and then four as coach. He was appointed assistant All Black coach to John Mitchell in 2001 before the pair were bypassed after the 2003 World Cup failure.

It was at that time, just before he was eased out of ARU power, that O'Neill wanted to sack George Gregan and Eddie Jones as captain and coach of the Wallabies. The CEO wanted Phil Waugh as skipper and Deans as coach, plans he outlines in his autobiography It's Only a Game - A Life in Sport, which has just been released.

O'Neill compares Deans favourably to former Wallaby coach Rod Macqueen and praises his rugby acumen and coaching talent. He thought his style would also appeal to the Wallabies.

"The major attraction, however, was his ability to nurture and maintain a strong team culture," he wrote. "Why else would so many All Blacks, even when struggling to make the run-on side, want to stay there rather than pursue a guaranteed start elsewhere in New Zealand?"

When Connolly said he would quit after this World Cup, the ARU was unimpressed with the hometown contenders. They felt assistants Scott Johnson and Michael Foley needed more time while Super 14 coaches Ewen McKenzie, Laurie Fisher and Pat Howard were in the same category and Mitchell wanted to concentrate on the Force.

On the list of possible overseas candidates, Deans had the strongest credentials ahead of Nick Mallett, Clive Woodward, Warren Gatland or David Nucifora.

Deans still wants to coach the All Blacks but his ambition will be stymied if the All Blacks do well at the World Cup in France. The Herald believes Graham Henry will step down anyway to work with the Cardiff Rugby Club and his successor would be his assistant, Steve Hansen.

The ARU will delay their coaching appointments until the NZRU have made their decisions. If Deans is not included in the next All Black setup, the ARU will offer him the Wallaby vacancy.

If that occurs, a source said the NZRU's reaction would be intriguing but they were unlikely to bring a legal challenge or to prevent Deans coaching the Crusaders.

Deans is keen to coach the Crusaders again after a year when they lost seven players to the All Blacks reconditioning scheme. If he is chosen as All Black coach though, the NZRU may have to remove that prospect.

Robbie Deans:

1997-00: Canterbury coach (1 title)

2001-03: All Blacks assistant coach

2000-07: Crusaders coach (4 titles)