Robbie Deans has resided on the dark side long enough to realise second best rarely has a silver lining for Australians - their sportspeople honoured to wear gold are expected to place accordingly.
A restrained homecoming for Australia's Olympic team on Wednesday emphasised how a failure to meet expectation is barely condoned and tonight his Wallabies are under also scrutiny - admittedly to a lesser extent - when they confront the archetypal "must-win" scenario against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium.
Deans is grateful the Bledisloe Cup reverts to a best-of-three format for the first time since 2006 - an even-numbered series favoured the holder as Australia discovered between 1998 and 2002 - and for the next decade the opening match will be played in Sydney guaranteeing home advantage at kick-off.
But since the corresponding fixture in 2008 - a stunning 34-19 victory in his first test coaching against his homeland - success against the All Blacks has been rare and achieved without a tangible reward until the final Tri-Nations crown was secured in Brisbane last year.
Deans' three-win 12-loss record against New Zealand is an embarrassing ratio so one of world rugby's least demonstrative coach's was typically restrained when asked if an All Black side without Graham Henry and Wayne Smith in the strategy meetings plus Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino in the scrum might be vulnerable.
"The Irish asked a lot of them in Christchurch, they came out full of expectation and got pumped," he said, referencing the All Blacks narrow win in the second test and 60-point flogging in the third.
"They're just a production line aren't they? Look at the way they went through June, the way they finished June."
In contrast the Wallabies opened their test calendar with the now traditional shock defeat to Scotland - a year ago Samoa humiliated the home side - before completing a closely fought clean sweep over Wales.
Wins over northern hemisphere opposition has also proved problematic during the Deans reign so beating the Six Nations champions was a confidence boost, though not cause for complacency against the world champions.
Deans was the All Blacks assistant coach when the Bledisloe Cup was retrieved in 2003 and there is no doubt where his loyalties lie as he embarks on his fifth attempt to annex the silverware for his adopted home.
"Yeah, it's been far too long," he said, before outlining a message reminiscent of Bledisloe Cup build-ups since triumph in Sydney four years ago was followed by a thumping at Eden Park seven days later.
"We're getting it done, the boys have worked hard, we understand that the All Blacks won't let go lightly, that's the nature of the way they approach their work, this group I can assure you is really looking forward to kick off," read the familiar refrain.
Deans was always reluctant to engage Henry in public debate and refused to rise to the bait dangled by Steve Hansen before the All Blacks arrived yesterday.
Noting only six starters from last year's semifinal had retained places in the run-on side tonight, Hansen suggested it was an admission Deans' selection was either flawed at the World Cup or those omitted were no longer trusted to implement his vision.
"Steve's a very good fisherman," Deans' deadpanned when asked if Hansen's assessment was watertight, "he loves fishing".
Deans could have pointed out James O'Connor, Pat McCabe, Dan Vickerman and James Horwill were injured and former captain Rocky Elsom is now overseas, but demurred.
The questionable absentee is playmaker Quade Cooper, the one player giving credence to Hansen's claim.
He has been virtually anonymous this week and with Kurtley Beale under a self-imposed media ban until his assault case is resolved it has been difficult to generate interest in a match, despite Sonny Bill Williams' return to Sydney.
Even his arrival on Thursday could not convince a local television station to turn up to the airport.
Jennifer Hawkins was on the runway at a fashion shoot so Miss Universe 2004 took precedence. After all, she's a winner.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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