They must have swallowed very hard before taking the plunge, given the furious nature of the public debate over the last week, but the board members of the Australian Rugby Union finally went ahead with it yesterday. Robbie Deans, a New Zealander with impeccable All Black credentials, will coach the Wallabies to the next World Cup in 2011 the first foreigner ever to be handed control of the national team.
Five good Australian men and true had put themselves up for the job, including a Grand Slam-winning coach in Alan Jones, a World Cup-winning prop in Ewen McKenzie and the pioneering defence strategist John Muggleton, who has been a fixture with the Wallabies since before the 1999 global tournament, which the men in green and gold won with only a single try against their name.
But Deans, the hot favourite despite his late application, won the vote. Comfortably, it appears.
These are strange days indeed. "You can't go around saying there has to be an Australian coaching the side," pronounced Matt Carroll, the deputy chief executive of the ARU.
"What we must have is the best coach, and we believe we have the best. We want to be at the top of the tree again we want to win the 2011 World Cup final at Eden Park in Auckland, and I couldn't think of anything better than doing that with Robbie. This is an international game, and in the future, we might have an English coach, God forbid. Times are a-changing."
Deans delayed pitching for an interview in Sydney because he was chasing the New Zealand job, and there was some surprise when Graham Henry, the incumbent, was reappointed. Even so, the New Zealand rugby hierarchy are less than pleased at losing Deans to their Antipodean neighbours. While they have given him permission to continue coaching the Canterbury-based Crusaders in next year's Super 14 tournament, he will have to give up the job at the conclusion of the tournament.
Born into a South Island farming family, Deans played five Tests for the All Blacks. His brother Bruce also wore the silver fern, as did his great uncle Bob, who scored the infamous "try that never was" for the 1905 "Originals" against Wales in Cardiff. He coached Canterbury to the New Zealand title in 1997 before establishing the Crusaders as the most successful non-international side in the world game. Less happily, he spent time as an assistant coach to the All Blacks under John Mitchell.
The game of musical chairs is now nearing completion. Nick Mallett, a South African, has taken charge of Italy, while Warren Gatland, a New Zealander, is in control of Wales.
More conservatively, the French have asked a Frenchman to coach their team Marc Livremont while England are preparing to play the home-grown card by retaining Brian Ashton. An announcement is expected on Wednesday.Reuse content