James Mortimer 19.Jul.2012Getty Images
Deans has been Wallabies coach since 2008, and initial hopes from Australian rugby circles that the multiple title winner with the Crusaders would transform the green and gold into an equally successful rugby machine haven’t quite eventuated.
The ‘cattle’ are different to what he worked with in Canterbury, and cashing in on his young Wallabies team enthusiasm in recent years seemed to be shifting the Australian’s rugby philosophy towards all-out attack.
Using the likes of Quade Cooper, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, the Wallabies finished 2010 as the second best team in the world, including putting together a 26-24 win in Hong Kong that stopped the All Blacks record ten-match winning streak over their trans-Tasman rivals.
While the All Blacks trail blazed the season before the Rugby World Cup with 59 tries, the Wallabies weren’t far behind with 49, but last year while the World Champions elect tweaked (but did not overhaul) their game, Deans all but tore up his strategic guide.
Perhaps it was a first up loss to Samoa, or a heavy defeat to the All Blacks at Eden Park during the final Tri-Nations, but the Wallabies entered the World Cup with a defence and pragmatism first mindset.
There was some irony in this, for arguably the Wallabies most complete performance of the season was their 25-20 win over the All Blacks prior to entering the global tournament, a match where New Zealand’s forward power almost allowed them to overrun Australia – but the dynamism of the green and gold backline was the difference between the sides.
There was precious little of this attacking verve when the two sides faced off in the World Cup semi-final, and since then the Wallabies – despite an impressive 3-0 series win over the Six Nations champions – haven’t had the swagger in their step that had the All Blacks looking over their shoulders cautiously in season's past.
In four tests so far this season, the Wallabies have scored just five tries, with three of those coming in the first test against Wales in Brisbane.
It continues a trend where the Wallabies have struggled to ignite against tier one opposition, scoring four tries in four matches in the Rugby World Cup against Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand and Wales.
The All Blacks certainly had to grind their way through the Rugby World Cup knockout stages, scoring just four tries against Argentina, Australia and France – a far cry from the record 36 tries they notched up during the pool stages.
However the preferred offensive mindset of the World Champions was evident in the Steinlager Series against Ireland, where the All Blacks scored 15 tries.
Despite a new benchmark being set for try-scoring during Investec Super Rugby (589 versus 559 to this time last year), Deans felt the World Cup had led to tighter defence.
'We've had an indication through Super Rugby in the way the game is being played,' he said.
'The World Cup is a different beast. Elements of the game have come forward from the World Cup into the Super Rugby tournament. There's no doubt the defensive lines are stiffer, so you have to work harder for what you get in the game.
Deans felt that attack may still yield results, but wasn’t convinced that was the best path ahead for the Wallabies.
'But there's still ample scope,” he said.
“We have seen really good football during the Super Rugby season, and also different approaches being successful. The key for us now is to gather our group, settle on our approach and try to find one which works for us.'