As if Robbie Deans didn't suffer enough while watching the Wallabies implode on Saturday night, the Melbourne Rebels put the boot in early yesterday by dumping James O'Connor, the playmaker he had entrusted to run the British and Irish Lions ragged.
Deans faith on O'Connor has been sorely tested on - and off the field - during the three-test series and while he persevered with the talented 23-year-old, Australia's newest Super Rugby franchise has opted not to extend his contract into 2014 in a bid to protect troubled teammate Kurtley Beale.
O'Connor's friendship with Beale is seen as counter-productive for the Wallabies fullback - the duo being photographed with a Lions fan at 4am in the lead-up to the second test in Melbourne seems to have been the tipping point.
The ultra-confident New Zealand-born utility was chosen ahead of close friend Quade Cooper for the biggest rugby occasion in Australia since the 2003 World Cup and despite setting up a crucial try in Melbourne - and scoring on halftime at ANZ Stadium - his performances have been critiqued extensively.
Deans, who is expected to be axed as head coach as part of the post-mortem into the Lions' decisive 41-16 triumph, would have woken to news of the Rebels announcement - another blow to his coaching reputation.
O'Connor was typically blase after Saturday night's capitulation but now faces a serious dilemma with the Western Force thought to be his only Super Rugby option in Australia. A move offshore is another possibility.
Rebels officials confirmed to AAP yesterday that they want to retain Beale and believe they would provide a better environment for the Wallabies fullback to overcome his alcohol issues away from O'Connor.
In a statement chief executive Rob Clarke said the Rebels were entering "the next phase of development".
The Wallabies could be facing the same scenario with Ewen McKenzie or Jake White poised to replace Deans, potentially ahead of next month's Rugby Championship.
McKenzie would likely reinstate Cooper as his backline general alongside Will Genia if he finally got the job he covets while 2007 World Cup-winning Springbok coach White's preference is probably the uncapped Brumbies pivot Matt Toomua or new Wallaby second five-eighth Christian Lealiifano.
Despite concerns over O'Connor's ability to get the Wallabies backs functioning anywhere but behind the gain line he shrugged off the criticism.
"I can look myself in the mirror," he said without a hint of irony, "and say I gave it my best shot for Australia."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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