Reality bites in Six Nations
February 11, 2013
The ESPN Australia team review the latest Six Nations action%]
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is breathing a little easier after reality returned to the Six Nations. As glitter was replaced by grind in the second round, Deans now realises that maybe, just maybe, the Wallabies have a chance of keeping the British & Irish Lions at bay during June/July.
Even though it is many weeks before Deans has to be fitted out for his latest Wallabies tracksuit, he has been under enormous pressure in recent weeks, forced to bob and weave in a bid to avoid landmines that have been strategically placed by the Australian provinces.
While the Lions tour has provided the Six Nations with an added edge, it has also been the catalyst for many in Australian Rugby getting all hot and bothered. A proposal to quarantine Wallabies players three weeks before the first Lions Test has aggravated the Australian Super Rugby provinces, who believe it could ruin any chance they have of winning the premier southern hemisphere tournament.
Deans has indicated he wants extended preparation time, and the provinces have been quick to state they don't like it. Last week NSW Waratahs assistant coach Alan Gaffney said a lengthy Wallabies training camp would make a 'farce' of Super Rugby.
Brumbies coach Jake White argued that the plan to rest Test players before crucial penultimate round Super Rugby matches was blatantly unfair.
The Waratahs are looking at possibly 10 players being unavailable for their match against the Force in Perth on June 9, while the Brumbies-Rebels match on June 7 could turn into a lottery as their Wallabies representatives are likely to be elsewhere.
The Australian Rugby Union is saying they will back Deans, but are preparing for a backlash from the provinces, a group which recently have had an unsteady relationship with head office. Several provinces, who have been miffed for a long time for seemingly being ignored by the ARU, will take delight in reminding the new regime, headed by Bill Pulver who recently took over from John O'Neill as its chief executive, of their existence.
Deans has decided to revert back to his traditional Easter Island statue pose and just keep his mouth shut. He is a master of that.
The first round of the Six Nations also did not improve his demeanor. England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland all produced spurts of rousing attacking football, and it was soon apparent the Lions selectors would have no problem selecting a swashbuckling backline that could easily out-maneuver and out-pace the Wallabies.
As the Wallabies are the masters of stop-start, inconsistent play, the pundits down here had seen enough after the first round to make the Lions rousing favourites for the series. After the second round, where the Six Nations reverted back to its traditions of wet, ploughed up fields and safety-first play, Deans and co realised it was no longer a case of them having to come up with a desperate plan to somehow rope in a galloping stallion.
England's Chris Robshaw and Ben Youngs lead the celebrations in Dublin © PA Photos
Their confidence lifted as they noticed several key players struggling, and that in such damp, hamstring snapping conditions, injuries to major performers over the next month is inevitable.
Nonetheless the ARU knows it is nowhere near time to start organising a ticker tape parade down George Street in Sydney in mid July.
Deans is aware the core of the Lions squad will come from England - and how they were able to adapt their game against Ireland, show they have a Plan B, even a Plan C, and can produce during tense times, particularly during those ten minutes in the second half when they were down a man.
Just as disconcerting was that in virtually the only glimpse of Manu Tuilagi during the game, shortly after coming off the bench, he almost scored after a concerted charge at the line. There's your Lions' X-factor.
No, Deans is not exactly sleeping well at the moment, but at least with fewer interruptions than a week ago.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.