Ostrich Deans

True story #1: two Wallabies players missed the team bus to training before the third Test and followed in a taxi. When asked to apologise to their teammates, one said “I’m sorry I didn’t order room service”. The coach did nothing, much to the dismay of the rest of the squad. We’ll reveal who the two players were at the end.

True story #2: it’s been reported that the ARU had decided to dispense with Dingo’s services before the Lions series even started – Deans was officially unaware of this, but its hard not to see him connecting the dots, particularly with Ewen McKenzie and Jake White treating him as a dead duck in public

Post the firing of Deans, the Wallaby camp is beginning to wash its dirty laundry in public, and it ain’t pretty. We previously opined that if the Lions couldn’t beat an Australia team begging to be beaten, who would they beat, but now we can ask an even stronger question – how did the Lions come so close to losing the series to a team with a lame duck coach, low morale and self-destructing superstars?

Understandably enough, it was Gatty’s selections that inspired the bigger debate in these parts, particularly because of the you-know-who decision, and the madcap preference for Tom Croft and Dan Lydiate as ball carriers ahead of Sean O’Brien. Whatever you think about the beefy Kiwi’s picks, at least they won the series, no matter the fortune involved. On the other side of the fence, Dingo Deans made some massive calls of his own, and they were largely catastrophic.

When one looks back on the Test series, the obvious reason why Australia didn’t win was their failure to made productive use of good primary possession. In the first two tests, they owned the scrum, lineout and football, yet lost by one point. When the Lions got on top, they won the final test by 25 points. And this all when Australia had the best scrumhalf (and player) on view, while the Lions hummed and hawed and placated an obviously unfit Mike Philips. Only with Conor Murray on did they look even reasonably effective.

While we aren’t buying the standard Sky winger-playing-at-ten line (he has plenty of experience at ten in Super Rugby), putting his eggs in the James O’Connor basket was a series-defining and disastrous decision by Deans. While O’Connor improved as the series went on, and showed occasional flickers of his talent, he never looked able to get his backline moving – any of the exiled Quade Cooper, an out-of-sorts Kurtley Beale or even Christian Leali’ifano would have been a better option. Indeed, having seen how Cooper filleted the Lions even when behind a beaten pack in Suncorp earlier in the tour, it is probable the Sydney test would have been a dead rubber with him in the side.

In the second test, Michael Hooper played a blinder, and became especially prominent with Sam Warburton gone – Deans repaid this performance by dropping him for the heroic George Smith. While the recall of Smith was a great story, dropping Hooper (and Liam Gill) wasn’t very smart, and his explanation to Gill (“You can talk abvout loyalty when you have 100 caps”) wasn’t very conducive to squad harmony. In the event, Smith was quite clearly reeling from a blow to the head early on and trundled around Sydney seemingly unaware of where he was.

To his credit, Ben Mowen is a massive find, one of the players of the series who looks likely to be a key Wallaby leader for the coming years, and Christian Leali’ifano is the kind of dead-eyed goal-kicker Australia have lacked for many years.

In many ways, Deans was on a hiding to nothing having fallen out with his best player and alienated the Wallaby fan base (such as it is) – and we now know he wouldn’t have got a new contract anyway – but not taking the chances offered up by an average Lions outfit over a three test series, having stuck your stall out was pretty unforgivable.

We’re likely to see quite a few changes in the Wallaby side in the run up to RWC15. McKenzie made a point of insisting all players would be forced to make the team bus on time. It’s probable the tiresome twins will see a sabbatical from Wallaby duty for some time until they get their heads in gear. Cooper and Matt Toomua will contest the 10 shirt in their absence and that of Berrick Barnes, who, along with Digby Ioane, is probably heading north. Henry Speight will be Wallaby-eligible at year end, and from him, Jesse Mogg, Israel Folau (presuming  he stays in union) and the Honey Badger, the Wallabies will pick a fresh-looking back three. Which makes Will Genia, Lilo and AAC the only constants in the backline.

In the pack, there is lots of talk Ben Alexander won’t be seen again, with James Slipper and Sekope Kepu contesting for the long-time Wallaby weakness at tighthead prop. Scott Sia and Siliva Siliva are the future at 1 and 2 respectively – expect to see them tour in November, as backup to Stephen Moore and Benn Robinson.

Another problem position is number 8, where Cliffy Palu had an anonymous series – in the absence of Scott Higginbotham, the only other options are moving Ben Mowen back or promoting Jake Schatz. A partner for James Horwill is needed in the second row as well, where Kane Douglas was fairly ineffective.

In the rush to thump chests and talk about 16 years of hurt ended, Northern Hemisphere rugby needs to recognise the Lions struggled for five-sixths of the Test series against a shambolic Wallaby team low on morale, that didn’t like its coach and had no recognisable gameplan – this was the weakest opponent the Lions faced in many many years. The likely improvement from here until RWC15 shouldn’t convince anyone that the Wallaby team they defeated wasn’t one that the New Zealanders or South Africans (or French, possibly) wouldn’t have swatted aside with ease.

The test series was thoroughly enjoyable for the drama and selection banter involved, but lets not kid ourselves about its quality. The more one hears about the Wallaby camp this summer, the less of a historical (immortal!) achievement the series victory looks – but hey, they happen rarely enough, let’s try and savour it. As long as we also try and learn something from it.

Postscript: if you haven’t worked out who the players are, go off and write 200 lines: “Willie John McBride owes me an apology”, then in no less than 10,000 words write a fair and balanced appraisal of Warren Gatland. End it: Love from Stephen.

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24 Comments

  1. Len

     /  July 11, 2013

    Win aside this was probably the poorest lions tour of the modern era. Neither coach had a plan b and booth made massive mistakes with plan a and selection of players. It basically came down to two coaches having a who’ll fumble more competition which Dingo won. I think Dingo could go the way of EOS and vanish from top line rugby. As for the lions I really hope when the dust settles and they look at the series they realise Gatty was lucky not inspired and that they don’t consider him for the NZ tour. I shudder to think what would have happened if that lions had faced the BNZ.

    • Amiga500

       /  July 11, 2013

      If that was BNZ, I think there would have been a realistic chance of the Lions not scoring a try across all the tests.

      They probably would have avoided being nil-ed due to a scrum penalty + halfpenny. But beyond that…

    • Interesting that you make the comparison between the similarities of the poor coaching performances… however, on one side we have Deans – who is very much at the lowpoint of his coaching career, while on the other we have Gatland – who is now (in the eyes of so many) very much at the other end of the scale… fascinating!

      • Great point, rugby analysts. As the oracle Bubbles says (I’m rewatching The Wire) “Thin line between heaven and here.”

      • It’s perception, innit? Gatland putting it out there that he’s like to coach the Lions in 2017 seemed to me a tacit acknowledgement that he’ll never coach the AllBlacks, so I think Warren (privately at least) probably agrees with Whiff’s assessment of the tour. The NZ Union and public will not equate a 2-1 series win against the worst Aussie side of the professional era with being qualified to coach the national side.

        • B

           /  July 11, 2013

          If this tour had been against NZ I think we would have seen a lot more 13 man lineouts, and in desperation rather than having a laugh…

        • Buccaneer

           /  July 11, 2013

          certainly the worse coached. its mental given the their resources. The backline they could have fielded for the first test is frightening, fantasy football stuff. granted a good few of them cant seem to get their shit together!

  2. Len

     /  July 11, 2013

    I think it just shows how tight the margin of success is.

  3. “The likely improvement from here until RWC15 shouldn’t convince anyone that the Wallaby team they defeated wasn’t one that the New Zealanders or South Africans (or French, possibly) wouldn’t have swatted aside with ease.”

    THE FRENCH? They are in a much worse state than the Aussies right now. how could you possibly the french are up there with SA and NZ. Maybe years ago, but not in the recent past.

  4. daijohnbryant

     /  July 11, 2013

    “The likely improvement from here until RWC15 shouldn’t convince anyone that the Wallaby team they defeated wasn’t one that the New Zealanders or South Africans (or French, possibly) wouldn’t have swatted aside with ease.”

    The French?! French rugby is in a worse state than Aussie rugby, definitely shouldnt be held as the best of the Northern hemisphere by any stretch of the imagination

    • contraflow

       /  July 11, 2013

      The Irish obsession with holding french rugby in high esteem borders on a compulsive-disorder .

    • Yeah, the French have had a pretty dreadful 2013, but there’s always the chance they’ll get their act together. It wasn’t that long ago they beat everyone in the November internationals, including a hammering of Australia. If they could appoint a decent coach who’d pick the team properly it would be a start.

  5. wow-jiffy-lube

     /  July 11, 2013

    You forgot to mention Bernard Foley as a possible ten, as lively as Cooper with ball in hand, stronger and more consistent, he’s been exceptional for the Waratahs this season but Dean’s, despite having selection privilege over Michael O’Conner, allowed him to go to the Seven’s world cup instead.

  6. IsmiseNiall

     /  July 11, 2013

    How accurate is the first fact? As I was under the impression that response “I’m sorry I didn’t order room service” was for being out late getting food the night of the rebels game, the week of the second test. That apology Makes no sense for missing the team bus for training (the week of the third test btw).

    To quote Willie O’Dea, “you’d want to check your sources, check your source”

    • We’re certain enough about that – absent paraphrasing. The comment was in reference to being delayed having breakfast in the hotel

      • Whiff “swears on his ‘tache”, as Willie might (not) say 😉

      • IsMiseNiall

         /  July 11, 2013

        Woopsy… my bad for doubting you guys, thanks for the clarification (walk of shame for me out the door!)

        • Hahahahah – its James O’Connor who should be walking out the door in shame!

          • HB

             /  July 11, 2013

            And he has, cut from Rebels.

          • Yep – and only the Force showing even the slightest interest in picking him up. The Rebels have been citing his attitude since announcing he’d be leaving.

            Huge few weeks for him while he sorts his future out. Too big a talent to write off, but he’s dug a hole for himself, and only he can get himself out.

  7. david_puddy

     /  July 11, 2013

    I think any talk of Gatty for coach in 2017 is premature as the game changes so quickly now, the new scrum engagement laws may not give him the penalty-producing platform that set the Lions on their way last weekend.
    In 2009 we had the ELVs and Deccie was toast of the town, with reference to a poster above, the game done change…

  8. Eoghan

     /  July 11, 2013

    It seems to have been glossed over by all mainstream media. I would consider not winning 3-0 & by a minimum of 20 points in every game should be deemed an absolute failure.
    Is that the absolute worst squad / team the Lions have ever faced in their history ?? Most certainly in my opinion

    • Can’t agree more with your first point. Superbly-talented set of Lions, better than 2009 vintage, but forced into unambition and scrapping for penalty points?! Coaching without due care and attention… Really pleased the backs got it together in the last half hour, but noticable that the shots of the coaching box showed a set of faces just as surprised as the viewers at home… In 2009 the Lions nearly won the series because of Ian McGeechan’s ability, in 2013 the Lions still won the series despite the coaching – progress?

  9. GE

     /  July 22, 2013

    Gatland made the mistake of trying to pick a please-everyone B&I Lions side.

    If he had stopped playing politics and picked 11 Welsh players from the start then he would have won all three as well as the last test. And the press would have been in uproar.

    Incidentally, I am amused by the notion that Lydiate was picked as a carrier. Heaslip was the back-row carrier in the first two tests, unfortunately.

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