Reason: Lions victory adds spice to NZ tour

MARK REASON
Last updated 05:00 08/07/2013
Robbie Deans
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HERO AND ZERO: A triumphant Warren Gatland shakes hands with Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.

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OPINION: The entire New Zealand rugby community should be thrilled that the Lions rolled over the top of Australia in the final test. It gives huge momentum to the series against the All Blacks in four years time. It also poses the intriguing question of whether Warren Gatland will be asked to coach the Lions against his own people.

When Gatland was offered the Lions job, there were inevitably negotiations over what rewards he would receive were the Lions to win the series. One of the rewards under negotiation was the unprecedented option to coach the Lions again in New Zealand.

That may seem a very long way off right now, weary as Gatland sounded after the trouncing of Australia. The coach admitted he was taken aback by the level of abuse aimed at his selection decisions.

He said, "I was absolutely shocked by what was said. The criticism was almost vitriolic. I haven't taken a lot of pleasure out of tonight in terms of feeling vindicated. I have not enjoyed the last 72 hours and it has been tough personally.

"When you are in this job you have to make tough calls and every now and again you get one of them right. There are times when you have to put your balls on the line. Test rugby is either agony or ecstasy. There is nothing in between.

"The scrum was brilliant tonight. I thought Alex Corbisiero was man of the match. Around the field he was sensational and justified why we picked him."

Ah, but Gatland didn't pick him. When the tour party was originally announced Corbisiero and Andrew Sheridan were omitted for lightweight scrummagers Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens. It was a poor judgement call as the way to destroy Australia, as proved time and again by England over the years, is through their scrummage. It was only injury that allowed Gatland to call up the England loosehead.

It also helped to have a northern hemisphere ref who knows something about the scrum. In the first test Chris Pollock allowed Australia to get away with an early hit all match. In the second test Corbisiero was injured. But when everything finally came together, a scrummaging front row with a competent ref in that area of the game, Australia fell apart.

The Lions' scrum garnered five penalties, two free kicks and 19 points from their superiority. For all the talk about selection, that one area was the heart of this victory, just as it was when Wales beat England at the end of the Six Nations. You would expect the Lions to go after New Zealand in the same area in 2017 as a lot of this team will still be about then.

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The future for Australia is far less positive. They only have six weeks to recover before they play the All Blacks at the same ground on which they have just been humbled. But will Robbie Deans, whose contract expires at the end of the year, still be coach for that match?

It is hard to see how Bill Pulver, the ARU's CEO, can retain him. Even Deans did not sound too positive after Saturday night's defeat, saying, "You can't presume anything in this industry. Those decisions are for others to make."

The problem for Deans is that he has united a nation. Against him. That is not entirely fair on the New Zealander, but it was inevitable if he lost this series. Helpful comments from Aussies online include sending Deans back to New Zealand in a slow leaky boat with an old cassette of Split Enz songs. And that was one of the kinder suggestions.

The trouble for Deans is that he has not just lost the fans, he has lost part of the Aussie dressing room. Commercially that adds up to a potential disaster for the ARU. Deans has failed to discipline his errant players adequately, he has failed to shore up the scrum and he will forever be haunted by Quade Cooper's toxic comment.

Australia is crying out for an Australian coach, despite the preference for Jake White's savvy in some decision-making quarters. Ewen McKenzie and Stephen Larkham would seem like a good combination to sort out the Wallabies problem areas.

Gatland wondered if Australia could reach the emotional level of Melbourne for a second week running. They could not. And this is another problem for Deans. Much of Australia's limited success in recent years has come from within the playing group, a point that James Horwill made after the second test. There is really not much left to sustain a defeated coach.

There were one or two parallels between the Wallabies/Lions match and the Crusaders/Chiefs match over the weekend. In both cases the losing side failed to exit their 22 efficiently at crucial stages of the match and were undone by a malfunctioning set piece (lineout Chiefs, scrum Australia) and individuals errors. No one would presume to elevate Todd Blackadder over the Chiefs coaching team on the back of that result.

But as is the way of the world, Gatland is now a genius and Deans a goat. It may not be fair, but when was sport ever fair.

- Stuff

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