Robbie Deans again found himself as the last line of defence on the eve of another ominous assignment against the All Blacks, fending off concerns about his coaching future yesterday while speculation mounts that he is on the verge of losing two star players.
The former fullback was under bombardment on a variety of fronts as the Wallabies finalised preparations for what they hope will be a face-saving though inconsequential Bledisloe Cup test win - a last opportunity to partially atone for their failure to regain the trans-Tasman trophy or challenge for the inaugural Rugby Championship.
Deans, who has an unflattering three-win 14-loss against his homeland, admitted he had held discussions with Quade Cooper, who made a scathing attack on the Wallabies alleged "toxic" and stifling environment while he nursed his latest knee injury.
Unsurprisingly Deans would not expand on the tenor of discussions other than confirm they had taken place.
"We've spoken and we'll talk again as well," he said and when asked if he was confident the impasse could be resolved he paused and nodded: "Yes".
While Deans was circumspect, his predecessor as Wallabies coach John Connolly, slammed Cooper's conduct and called for the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) to ban the aggrieved playmaker for 12 months as punishment for his "unforgivable" criticism.
"It's unforgivable what Cooper did," Connolly told Radio Sport.
"You can't imagine one of the All Blacks criticising (coach Steve) Hansen and the game.
"I hope (the ARU) do make a strong statement. He's said he doesn't want to play for his country - well then that's fine."
Will Genia, the first choice halfback and captain until he succumbed to a knee injury, provided another distraction for the injury-hit Wallabies build-up when he revealed he was exploring his options - including Japan - in light of his contract negotiations with the ARU having dragged on for six months without resolution.
"That's part of the negotiation process these days," Deans said.
"It's pretty routine. Willie's very aware that we'd rather have him here than not."
Meanwhile, it was evident Deans, who is contracted until the end of next year, would rather not speculate on his chances of completing his term.
Weary of fielding questions on the stress he was under to turn the world's second-ranked nation into a genuine challenger for the All Blacks top spot, Deans insisted the pressure had not been ramped up in the wake of ARU chief executive John O'Neill - a long-term ally - vacating the role at the end of the month."It's like that every week, it's the nature of the game. There's no point in dwelling on it. It's about these blokes, helping them get up and helping them do what they do," he said.
Current captain Nathan Sharpe accepted the Wallabies would need to a special performance to topple the world champions.
"Every team's beatable but we'll have to play the best game we've played this year.
"We're aware of that and we've had a great week of preparation. If we can translate onto the field we'll give ourselves a shot. The guys have got a real resolve."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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