Deans faces firing squad - All Blacks soldier on
OPINION: The All Blacks suffer injuries and there's someone bristling and buoyant on the bench ready to assume responsibility.
The Wallabies suffer the same fate and there's nowhere to turn. You can almost visualise the bullet being loaded into the breach, Robbie Deans fixed in the crosshairs, and the inevitable gunshot emanating from the bowels of the Wallabies' dressing room. It hasn't happened yet, but it probably should. Someone put the man out of his misery - please.
As test results go, the Wallabies' 33-6 loss to France at the weekend was arguably as soul-destroying as their shock loss to Scotland, in Australia, earlier in the year. Despite their staggering World Cup loss to Tonga, France are full of surprises and wondrous things on a rugby field. They pushed the All Blacks to their limits in the World Cup final and lost narrowly. And they were playing at a different level to the Wallabies on Sunday.
Contrast that to the current state of All Blacks' rugby. Beauden Barrett's seamless introduction to fullback following Israel Dagg's early demise in the All Blacks' win over Scotland at Murrayfield personified the wealth of talent available to Steve Hansen. That's likely to be tested even further as injuries to Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith run their course. Adam Thomson's foolhardy indiscretion has added more unnecessary tension to the equation.
New All Blacks hit the field knowing that they're entering a system that's withstood the most rigorous of testing, where everyone's generally in synch and capable of fulfilling the individual roles expected of them.
Piri Weepu's accomplished efforts at halfback offered further evidence of that positive environment.
Weepu attracted more derisive comment than anyone during the Super Rugby competition, yet Hansen stood by him, gave him his ultimatums and, to Weepu's credit, the now 67-test veteran responded maturely and responsibly.
Judging by Dan Carter's exceptional performance, the All Blacks now look capable of even bigger things. We've been waiting for some time now to see Carter unleash his running game and to recapture the attacking form that originally earmarked him as one of the world's best ever No 10s.
The Scots were on the receiving end on Monday, with Wales most likely next in Carter's sights in two weeks' time.
Scotland provided tougher opposition than most predicted they would.
They showed heart and character, but like the France-Australia scenario, they were operating at a skill level way below that of the All Blacks.
Yet despite their 29-point victory margin, the All Blacks will be demanding more of themselves against Italy this weekend.
With Wales and England to follow, the All Blacks won't be letting their plans of an unbeaten season slip through their fingers.
France might just have provided a more fitting season finale.