Robbie Deans dismissal move hurt Wallabies

JIM MORTON
Last updated 08:57 29/11/2013
Robbie Deans
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DEANS WOES: The British and Irish Lions series-decider against Australia was blighted by a dreadful build-up.

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It was the Wallabies' biggest Test match since the 2003 World Cup final but the British and Irish Lions series-decider was blighted by a dreadful build-up.

Assistant coach Andrew Blades has revealed Australia's 41-16 third Test meltdown in July followed unnerving distractions off the field as powerbrokers were in the process of removing coach Robbie Deans.

Blades, who remains the Wallabies scrum guru under Deans' successor Ewen McKenzie, still regrets not stepping in to remove "unsettling" tremors and sharpen the team's focus.

Despite a series-levelling 16-15 win over the Lions in Melbourne the weekend before, the writing was on the wall for Deans before the decider at Sydney's packed ANZ Stadium on July 6.

Looking back, Blades remains irritated the moving and shaking wasn't left for another day.

"For me that was one of the hard things in the lead-up to the third Test was all the sense and speculation going on and people getting pulled aside here and there," Blades told AAP as the Wallabies prepare for their last game of the year against Wales in Cardiff.

"It was very distracting in that last week.

"We all knew that if we didn't win that series that we would all likely to be gone.

"But it was a weird thing to have it in that last week...that something was going on.

"Everyone was looking over their shoulders. It was pretty unsettling for the group."

Deans looked and spoke like a man who knew his fate before and immediately after the match, when the Lions ran away with the match with three tries in the final 20 minutes.

While no one from the Australian Rugby Union canvassed Blades about Deans' pending demise, he admitted players and coaches alike sensed "a lot of things going on in the background".

"Not everyone's mind was on what was important that weekend," said the 1999 World Cup-winning prop. "It was a weird week and one that I often think about now, one of those if you had your time again.

"You sense those things unfolding and you wonder if you could have almost said 'everyone forget about it'.

Making the preparation worse were worrying injuries to captain James Horwill (calf) and other forwards that were kept secret but badly affected the Wallabies scrum.

French referee Romain Poite showed little mercy to the home side's set-piece from the outset, whistling them off the park early and sin-binning tight-head prop Ben Alexander in the 25th minute.

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"We knew what (the Lions scrum) were trying to do in the first two Tests in trying to create sideways movement to get a penalty and we coped with it really well," Blades said.

"In the third Test we did some things slightly differently and it didn't work."

A big problem was keeping the normally-powerful Horwill on the tight-head side of the second-row in spite of a calf strain.

"He couldn't keep his foot on the ground so he was trying his guts out but it left the tight-head in a bad situation," Blades said.

"You want him to play because it's the biggest game of his career but in hindsight you either move him to the other side or .... whatever.

"They were able to get away with things. We knew what they were going to do but we weren't good enough to stop that."

Although new coach McKenzie has brought in major change to the Wallabies, particularly attempting to lift cultural standards, Blades only has praise for Deans as a man and mentor.

The former All Black, the Wallabies' first foreign coach, was under pressure once he was recontracted before the 2011 World Cup, where Australia were knocked out by New Zealand in the semi-final.

"He always used to say 'It's not about me it's about the team, let's just get on with it'," Blades said.

"You haven't heard boo from him since and he's that sort of bloke and he always wants the best for people.

"I've been mates with Ewen since we played and even though I only knew Robbie for that short time he's someone I'll keep in contact with because he's a good bloke and he cares for people."

That care ultimately hurt Deans as frustrated senior players lost patience with wayward stars Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor, who let the coach and team down with repeated misdemeanours.

"Robbie had a way of dealing personally with those blokes," Blades said. "Sometimes people are looking for public executions but he did a lot of work behind the scenes with guys helping them getting through things.

"It probably wasn't appreciated how much of that sort of stuff he did do himself. He didn't feel the need to chop someone's head off in public, but that might create the feeling that it wasn't done."

More than four months on, the Wallabies have begun to turn the corner under McKenzie as they look to enjoy four straight wins for the first time in five years.

Victory over Six Nations champions Wales would also provide the first four-match winning streak on a European tour since Blades made his Test debut in 1996.

The former 36-Test prop can see the similarities with that young rebuilding squad, which provided the bulk of players that went on to win the 1999 World Cup, and the current crop.

Blades major job is to turn around global perceptions that Australia continue to sport a weak scrum.

Strong scrummaging displays in wins over Italy, Ireland and Scotland have started to turn opinions, with Welsh and Lions hooker Richard Hibbard this week labelling such Achilles heel tags a myth.

But McKenzie and Blades, Australia's scrum anchors throughout the 1990s, know the scrum must remain consistent over time to prove themselves a dominant forces.

"The guys really want to develop a strong scrum and a strong scrummaging mentality, and they know they are up against it due to this perception," Blades said.

"We're the only ones who can change that."

- AAP

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