Deans denies Australia rift ahead of tour

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The Independent Online

Robbie Deans has dismissed suggestions former captain Stirling Mortlock was kept in the dark over the decision to replace him with Rocky Elsom for the upcoming Grand Slam tour of the British Isles, insisting the 32-year-old knew exactly where he stood.

Both the coach and former skipper fronted the media yesterday in a bid to clear up any confusion over the handling of the change in leadership amid increasing speculation of a rift between senior players and the Kiwi-born mentor.

Deans confirmed he first broached the subject with Mortlock in the week after the side's disappointing loss to New Zealand in Wellington last month, in what was to be the first of several meetings about the matter.

"Stirling was under no illusions that there was going to be a change of captaincy," Deans said.

"We met the week after our last fixture of the Tri-Nations... so we've had a number of conversations since that point - the most recent being last week where we talked about the emotion, I guess, of that change and how Stirling would respond at the point of announcement."

Mortlock concurred: "Robbie and I had discussions probably two weeks leading up to the announcement last (Friday), so it was an ongoing thing and a situation that we were both well aware of."

However, while both men agree the meetings took place, the 80-Test veteran, who declared Elsom's appointment the right way forward for the team, alluded to a minor breakdown in communication.

"I think if anything there was a slight misunderstanding from mine and Robbie's communications we had," he said when asked if the situation was handled properly.

But when asked to confirm there was a breakdown in communication, a defensive Mortlock was quick to shoulder the blame for the mix-up.

"No, no I didn't say that, what I said was (it was) a misunderstanding from my behalf," he said.

Meanwhile, Deans is adamant reports star playmaker Matt Giteau is unhappy are unfounded.

"I've got absolutely no doubt that's he's fully committed to what he's doing," he said of Giteau.

"We constantly discuss how we can do what we do better and we're all going to have to get outside our comfort zones in order to change our circumstance."

Giteau, who was controversially overlooked for both the top job and vice-captaincy with Berrick Barnes appointed Elsom's deputy, also refuted claims he is disenchanted.

"Obviously I was a little disappointed (not to get the captaincy), I think if you talk to any players within the squad at some point they'd like some kind of leadership role at some point of time," Giteau said.

"So from that point of view I'm disappointed but fully supportive of the guys that obviously the coach and (ARU boss) John O'Neill have appointed.

"I'm not unhappy. I'm looking forward to the tour that's coming up, obviously it's a great opportunity. The Grand Slam hasn't come up in 25 years so it'll be great to be a part of that."