OPINION: Bill Pulver has a problem. What in Campese's name does he do if Australia win the final test in Sydney and with it the series? What then? Does Robbie Deans stay on us coach? Does Australia's CEO ignore all the disquiet, the turgid tactics, the animosity around the country, just because the Wallabies won a series that could have gone either way?
On Saturday evening Deans's future was attached to the end of Leigh Halfpenny's boot. If the finest goal kicker in current world rugby - no make that one of the finest of all-time, the evidence of this tour simply demands it - nailed his penalty kick from somewhere near Melbourne's Docklands, then Robbie was out of here. With a winning record under 60 per cent and a 2-0 defeat by the Lions, Deans could not survive.
Conor Murray tried to steal a yard or two on Halfpenny's behalf, but the impressive Craig Joubert was having none of it. Halfpenny's kick was just the Lions side of halfway. And maybe, just maybe, that extra yard or two saved Deans. Halfpenny was on his limits. He pressed for the extra distance and lost his timing.
But why should this make any difference to Deans's future? The first two tests have turned on events outside the coaches' control. They have turned on luck and goalkickers and injuries and referees. They have not been turned by the men in the glass box.
Pulver should look at the way that Australia played on Saturday, he should look at all that has gone before, and he should pull the lever. We expected the Aussies to come in waves in the second test. We expected Ben Alexander in his 50th test to barrel over the Niagara, we expected Horwill to take out his rage on the Lions, we expected Genia to boss the game and Israel Folau to rampage over belittled defenders.
Instead we were left treading water like Lara Bingle, the poster girl of Aussie tourism, internally shouting, "Where the bloody hell are you?"
We waited and we waited for Australia to show up. And in the end, it seemed entirely appropriate that a man on one leg won the man of the match award. Will Genia was clearly carrying a knee injury. The Aussie scrum-half struggled to pass to his left across his wounded right knee, opening up chest-on to the receiver, and yet he still won the vote as the game's star man, although for my money Sam Warburton was worthier of the accolade.
But Genia was a small mercy that we were very thankful for, because this was an unimaginative game of rugby played between two fearful teams. James O'Connor's misguided efforts at number 10 for Australia are becoming an ongoing criticism of a coach who thinks he can play there.
The All Blacks are vulnerable at the moment but at least they try to play a bit of footie. Australia have game breakers all over the pitch, yet they bash up these endless pods, all going the same way, until they reach the touchline. Then they go back the other way.
And if they aren't going from side to side across the pitch, they are playing the 'territory' game. What a boring phrase this is, what a boring way to play. Side to side, up and down, like some primitive computer game. And only when Australia had no choice, only when they were six points down and chasing the game, did they emerge from their own fear.
Nearly 25 years ago they lost a series against the Lions and David Campese was widely blamed for trying to run out from his own line. But Campo won far more matches than he lost and the inferiority of the Aussie forwards was the real reason they lost that series. Men like Mark Ella and David Campese seemed to epitomise Aussie rugby, but the ghost of Campo was nowhere to be seen yesterday.
After the match captain Horwill was asked about the spirit of his men and how they keep coming from behind. Horwill pointedly said you can't coach that. It came from within. It came from a place that coaches can't reach. And Robbie looked at his captain sideways, he looked at the man who refused to endorse his coach earlier this week, and you could sense the separation.
Coach Mickey Arthur lost control of the cricket team and now he is gone. The larrikins kicked up and the South African coach lost his job. Deans lost control of the larrikins in his rugby side long ago, but somehow he has held on and held on. It is not altogether his fault. Australia's culture is very different to Canterbury's and Deans is not at home here.
But Pulver must not be swayed by results. Deans was outcoached on Saturday as Australia were hammered at the breakdown, the area that was supposed to decide the series. Only when his men chased the game and Genia and Folau played off the cuff, did Australia come through. The Dullabies were rescued by two special players who changed direction. It is time for Pulver to do the same.
- © Fairfax NZ News