In the end, it had to come, and Robbie Deans knew it. After six seasons in charge of the Wallabies, and the side always promising so much under his leadership without ever quite delivering, the patience of the Australian Rugby Union, was wearing thin. A series victory over the British and Irish Lions would be a bare beginning to keeping his job, but even then he would have needed a Bledisloe Cup series victory as well to have his contract renewed.
Alas, after the Wallabies disastrous performance in the Third Test on Saturday night, losing the match 41-16 and the series 2-1, the ARU's patience was worn out and as Georgina Robinson has reported, on Monday morning he was handed his hat and gently told that Ewen McKenzie will be taking over forthwith.
Yes, I was a bitter critic at his appointment – on the grounds of the humiliation of having an All Black coach the Wallaby side – but I take no joy at his departure.
I disclose Robbie Deans to be a close friend and had a long breakfast with him on Monday morning so my view may be skewed, but it is this: he has been unlucky. He is a fine man, and a great coach with a rugby resume second to none in the coaching world, at least at provincial level. In terms of his engagement with community rugby in Australia he is second to no Wallaby coach, full stop.
He was, furthermore, good enough to get a Wallaby side to within a whisker of beating the extremely strong Lions in the first Test, and by a whisker in the second Test. He was also good enough to have the Wallabies as incumbent Tri-Nations champions – even if his conspicuous lack of success against the All Blacks is the thing that has hurt him most. On his watch, world class talent has been identified and brought through and – all else being equal – Ewen McKenzie really is inheriting a side that has far more potential to succeed than the one Robbie took over from John Connolly.
But yes, in the end, as he well knew, there was no way forward after that disastrous loss to the Lions. Without quoting him, as it was not that kind of breakfast, his view was that it had been an honour and a privilege to coach the Wallabies, and as there are only two kinds of coaches – those who have already been sacked, and those who will be sacked – this day was always going to come sooner or later. It was sad that it had come sooner than he wanted, but he went off to his morning meeting with ARU CEO Bill Pulver with his head held high, and so he should have.
His tenure as Wallaby coach ultimately did not work out as well as he, or we, would have liked, but he could not have given any more than he did to the task at hand, and he leaves with the broad goodwill of most of the rugby community, including, I know, the majority of the board of the ARU, who nevertheless feel it is time for change. Go well, Robbie. You will be fondly remembered in Australian rugby by the vast majority of those who had a personal association with you.
From what we've been reading and hearing out of Australia, Robbie Deans' contract may well have come to a premature end irrespective of the result of the Sydney test match, but the series loss to the Lions provided a justifiable catalyst for change. There were elements within Australian rugby that were never happy at having an outsider coaching the national side.
In that manner, Robbie Deans was in the same predicament that David Shearer finds himself; facing an enemy within that represents far more of a threat than the enemy without. The ARU must bear some of the blame; its continued tolerance of behavioural excesses by certain annointed players is completely at odds with the Deans team-first ethos.
Peter FitzSimons' point about Deans' engagement with grassroots rugby in Australia is significant. Australian rugby is top-heavy, and the fact that it has five sides in Super Rugby belies the lack of depth in the code across the ditch. If greater depth can ever be established at state level and below, Australia could become the world's rugby powerhouse. For that, we would definitely NOT thank Robbie Deans!
Where Robbie Deans goes next is anyone's guess, but there are sure to be plenty of lucrative offers, and it is unlikely that anyone in New Zealand will be able to match the riches available offshore. If Deans still has unfinished business in terms of coaching the All Blacks however, he's the kind of bloke for whom the lure of many pounds or francs might not be enough.