It’s always a special moment when your team steps onto the pitch, pitting their guile, strength and skill against the best in the world. For rugby fans though, the sight of your team playing against the Lions is one of the most amazing sights in the world, stirring all kinds of emotions from deep within. It isn’t only the fans who feel this though – the players, coaches and support staff all get the same feelings, and one man who will certainly receive the full barrage of emotions is the Wallabies coach, Robbie Deans.
Deans doesn’t only have the normal expectations on his shoulders though – he has more to contend with than almost any other Australian coach in history. The Lions tour could be his make or break series – the series that decides whether history will render him a flop or give him a brief moment of success in an otherwise unremarkable tenure. So, regardless of the results, Deans will be in the spotlight, either for the right or wrong reasons.
As soon as Deans stepped into the breach, the spotlight was on him, simply due to the fact that he doesn’t hold an Australian birth certificate. For the fiercely proud Aussie supporters, appointing a New Zealander seemed almost akin to heresy. Big things would need to be achieved to forgive this clash of nationalities, but at the time of his appointment, big things almost seemed inevitable. After all, he was seen by most people as the best coach in the Southern Hemisphere, the man who had been a part of the Crusaders’ Super 15 triumphs in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008, so how could a man of his calibre fail to achieve greatness with the Aussies?
This success was a poisoned chalice for Deans though, as however much he achieved, he would still be seen as an underachiever. Let’s not forget that, since being a part of the Aussie set-up, he has beaten South Africa at home 2 years in a row, a feat that had not been achieved for 60+ years, won the Tri-nations in 2011, and beaten New Zealand by a massive margin. On the other hand, he has had some poor losses to Samoa and Scotland, failed to win a Bledisloe Cup and has a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the media, who now dub him as “Dingo Deans”. A mixed bag then: meaning that his legacy is on a knife edge and will be decided by this Lions series.
The current Australian team is also not the strongest to ever set foot on the field, and the mark of a good coach is getting the best out of an understrength squad. People have questioned Deans’ selections before, but the Lions series is a chance for him to prove his doubters wrong and make the big calls that really make a difference. Of course, if the team loses though, his team selections will be pored over and everyone will believe that their choices would have fared better.
Robbie Deans will never go down as an Australian legend – this would simply be impossible now, thanks to previous occurrences. So why is this series so important to him? Well, we’ve already mentioned legacy a few times, and Deans’ legacy will be as a failure if he doesn’t defeat the Lions. Victory, however, will see him go down as passable; adequate; a man who didn’t set the world alight, but who brought some moments of joy to the Aussie supporters. On their day, this Aussie team can defeat the Lions, but can Deans ensure that this day comes at the right moment?
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