Outsiders were fighting a losing battle in Oz

MICHAEL DONALDSON
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2013
Robbie Deans
Getty Images
TURBULENT TENURE: Robbie Deans has been replaced by Ewen McKenzie, who also had a hard road to the top.

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OPINION: You know the feeling - you're a tourist, let's say an Aucklander on the West Coast, and you walk in to a bar ... there's that slightly uncomfortable moment when every one turns to look and sizes you up.

Eventually, most folk turn away, get on with their drinking, but a few eyes linger and a few pints later someone wants to pick a fight with you.

Welcome to the world of being a foreign coach in charge of a national sports team.

In essence, putting a South African into the Australian cricket team, or a New Zealander into the Wallabies, is like putting your average latte-sipping, pinot grigio-drinking marketing manager from Aucklander into a West Coast pub full of miners drinking pots of Monteith's. It's called a culture clash.

The only outcomes worse than this would be an Englishman in charge of the Aussie league team.

There's something particularly prickly about the Australian sporting culture - they have a curious mix of utter arrogance and fortress mentality that comes with being a very big island. And there are three mortal enemies: New Zealand, South Africa and England.

It's no surprise then that when Robbie Deans was named Wallabies coach six years, outspoken writer Peter FitzSimons described it as the most "humiliating day in Australian rugby history". Not because Deans was a bad coach or an awful character but because, said Fitz, "it was such an admission to our greatest rivals, that their rugby brains were better than ours".

That Deans earned the moniker "Dingo" also says a lot about how he was viewed - feral, sly, not to be trusted (especially in the context of the Azaria Chamberlain case).

It was apparent, by the end of his tenure, that Deans had lost the Wallabies' dressing room. His best (and most mercurial) players - Quade Cooper, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale - had gone rogue. The famous Deans' discipline, which had made the Crusaders such a machine-like force in Super Rugby, didn't work in a rugby culture that favoured flamboyance and a brash attack.

Since the days of the Ella brothers, Australian rugby has always been as much about the performance as the result - something of a necessity for a sport competing for media attention and sponsorship dollars against the more spectacular and fluid sports of Aussie Rules and rugby league.

There's probably less separation between the Australian and South African cricket cultures - but again the idea of putting South Africa's Mickey Arthur in to a ferociously patriotic Australian dressing room never made sense.

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Australian cricket, through the legendary captaincy of Allan Border, Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, has been imbued with a warrior spirit. Border was famously, furiously devoted to the baggy green cap and he built on an empire on a no-quarter-given mentality. Waugh perpetuated that them-and-us, Aussies diggers against the world attitude - a bond best summed up by the way the team performs the traditional victory song/dance "Under the Southern Cross". It's done in secret, away from the praying eyes of outsiders, and is a method of bonding the team together against the world.

Bring an outsider into that mix and it's a recipe for disaster.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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