Robbie Deans is in a ''no-win'' situation and his job as Wallabies coach would be safe in any other country based on the results he has produced, says Warren Gatland.
The British and Irish Lions and Wales head coach defended his rival and compatriot in the lead-up to Australia's fourth and final test of their European tour, against Wales in Cardiff, saying nothing but regular victories over the All Blacks was good enough for Australian rugby fans. ''I think the lack of consistency is only because they can't beat the All Blacks, but not many of us can,'' Gatland said.
''I feel for Robbie Deans a little bit; he's under a massive amount of pressure and I feel like sometimes he's in a no-win situation. But I do understand the expectations in terms of consistency but I think that comes down to the fact they've been missing a lot of key players and a lot of experienced players and I think they'll get a lot of benefit from being able to blood some of those [new] players [this year].''
Speaking at a briefing in Cardiff Castle to promote next year's Lions tour, Gatland questioned some of Deans's recent tactics against New Zealand, and said it was hard to get a read on which style the Wallabies would use against the Lions.
''I was surprised that the first [Bledisloe Cup match in Sydney] against the All Blacks they've tried to run everything without the personnel and then you bring someone like [Quade] Cooper in for the [second Bledisloe in Auckland] and you employ a kicking game,'' he said. ''I found some of those things a little bit strange, in the way they approached things.''
The Wallabies have slipped to third in the IRB world rankings, three games into their end-of-year tour, after a loss to France and victories against England and Italy. A win over Wales would put them back at No 2 behind the All Blacks.
Asked to elaborate on why he believed Deans was in a no-win situation, Gatland said the Wallabies' results under the former Crusaders coach were solid but not enough - for Australians - without regular wins against the All Blacks.
''It's a bit hard when you win the Tri Nations last year, you finish second in the [Rugby Championship] this year, you finish third in the World Cup and you're number [three] in the world and people want to get rid of you,'' he said.
''Most countries or most coaches would be pretty safe with those numbers and statistics. It probably doesn't help when he comes from over the ditch.''
Gatland said Australians were accustomed to overachieving in sport and expected nothing less than being world-beaters. ''I have a massive amount of respect for what [Australia has] achieved,'' he said.
''It's been difficult for Robbie coming in there ... [the Wallabies] have found it tough over the last few years, even though they won that [Tri Nations] game in Brisbane last year and then this year there was that drawn [final Bledisloe Cup match] that they probably should have won, but they've found that tough and people expect Australia to beat the All Blacks - not every game, but regularly. I think that's been potentially his biggest downfall.''
Gatland will announce his complete coaching staff on December 12. He spent much of the briefing playing down the Lions' chances in Australia next year, declaring both the captaincy and prestigious five-eighth starting spot ''wide open''. The Six Nations tournament, which starts in February and includes England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as France and Italy, will be the Lions selectors' most important hunting ground.
Gatland also weighed in on the Quade Cooper debate, saying the estranged Wallabies five-eighth's recent public criticisms had hurt Deans. Nevertheless, Australia needed the attacking edge offered by Cooper and the likes of Kurtley Beale, James O'Connor, Will Genia and Digby Ioane, Gatland said.
''When they're at full strength they do have a real four or five players with real firepower, that attacking threat from all aspects,'' he said. ''For me, those players are the real key game-changers, players that can force missed tackles, make breaks, but give you so many attacking options as a No 10 that you've got those threats around you.''
- Sydney Morning Herald