Deans under pressure from start to finish

WRITING ON THE WALL: Robbie Deans seemed resigned to the fact his tenure as Wallabies coach was likely over after losing the Lions series.
WRITING ON THE WALL: Robbie Deans seemed resigned to the fact his tenure as Wallabies coach was likely over after losing the Lions series.

As the series-deciding third test with the British and Irish Lions loomed in Sydney last weekend, Robbie Deans, in a rare moment of candour, expressed his passion for coaching.

"It's great to have a game in front of you," he said, "I'm not looking forward to the day that I don't."

That day dawned yesterday when the Wallabies' first foreign head coach was told by Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver that Saturday night's disastrous 41-16 capitulation to the Lions marked the end of his five-and-a-half year tenure.

Deans will be replaced today by Ewen McKenzie, the former Wallabies prop who knocked back the post in late 2005 to stay with the NSW Waratahs; he was then overlooked when the New Zealander was appointed after leading the Crusaders to their seventh Super Rugby title in early 2008.

Pulver, who succeeded ardent Deans backer John O'Neill as CEO in February, originally indicated the 53-year-old would stay until his contract expired at the end of this year.

He reiterated last week Deans' future did not hinge on the outcome at ANZ Stadium, but an abject Wallabies performance in the most significant game in Australia since the 2003 World Cup final brought his record-breaking 74-test reign to an ignominious end.

In reality Deans had been under pressure for the majority of his appointment, an inability to beat the All Blacks since a first-up victory in 2008 and a semi-final exit at the 2011 World Cup were significant failures, while losing to Samoa plus back-to-back tests to Scotland also left an indelible stain on his reputation.

Ominously, the ARU had already sounded out the Reds and Brumbies to explore the possibilities of acquiring McKenzie or Jake White, the 2007 World Cup-winning coach who is leading an impressive rebuild of the former powerhouse of Australian Super Rugby in Canberra.

McKenzie has co-ordinated a similar resurgence at the Reds, culminating in the 2011 Super Rugby title, and in March announced he was leaving the Queensland set-up at the end of this season in a bid to coach at international level.

The 51-cap front rower was willing to go abroad but instead he secured the job he coveted, which starts with preparing the Wallabies for the 2013 Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks in Sydney on August 17.

White also appealed - particularly as a disciplinarian, a character trait needed to improve the off-field behaviour of repeat offenders Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor.

That duo ultimately undermined Deans, who kept faith in the playmakers despite Beale's history of alcohol abuse and his 4am night out with O'Connor three days before the second test in Melbourne.

It emerged yesterday that Beale and O'Connor also missed the team bus to training last Thursday, a final act of defiance under Deans' watch.

Deans' background as a former All Blacks player and coach never truly gelled with the Australian rugby public while McKenzie's expansive game plan is mana from heaven in a competitive footballing market place.

The Kiwi's laconic personality and general avoidance of the media spotlight also hardly enhanced the code's image compared to loquacious predecessors Bob Dwyer and Eddie Jones.

Yet results were the bottom line and again Deans could not source the personnel or consistency that underpinned his success in Christchurch.

Just three wins from 18 tests against his former team, and an inability to prise the Bledisloe Cup from NZRU headquarters, was a permanent frustration - even winning the 2011 Tri-Nations was immaterial because the only trophy worth winning that year was at Eden Park on October 23.

Deans ended with a record of 43 wins 29 losses and two draws, a 59.45 per cent success rate.

Fittingly, his final test illustrated where the team he inherited still struggles - scrummaging and the presence a reliable first five-eighth.

The Lions obliterated the Wallabies pack from the first engagement while Deans determination to mould O'Connor into a No 10 - by shunning McKenzie favourite Quade Cooper - also backfired.

Cooper infamously described the Wallabies environment as "toxic" under Deans last September and hasn't played a test since; McKenzie represents the perfect antidote.

TOP JOB: Ewen McKenzie will leave the Reds to take over the Wallabies coaching job.
TOP JOB: Ewen McKenzie will leave the Reds to take over the Wallabies coaching job.