Robert Maxwell Deans
Age 51 (4 September 1959)
Birthplace Cheviot, N Canterbury
Coaching history Canterbury, Crusaders, New Zealand (asst)
Record as Australia coach
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Kiwi Robbie Deans is hoping to shatter his countrymen’s World Cup dreams by guiding a Wallaby side he’s packed with thrilling young talent to the trophy
Robbie Deans is the first non-Australian to coach the Wallabies, but his impressive record made it fitting for the national union to go out on a limb for him.
The New Zealander is the most successful coach in Super Rugby history, having won 74% of his 120 matches in charge of the Crusaders and lifted the Super Rugby title seven times. As former Crusaders captain-turned-coach Todd Blackadder, says: “He has a thirst for excellence, and that rubs off on everyone around him. He’s a winner by heart and has a proven record of winning after turning failure around, by learning from it.”
That ability to learn from defeat was most apparent after the Crusaders finished tenth in the 2001 Super 12. He realised some of his players were burnt out, so he examined how other sports trained their athletes and then tailored programmes to fit each individual. In 2002 the Crusaders became the only side in Super Rugby history to win every match. Job done.
Deans also likes to work with a good team of coaches. “You must have good people around you and you have to give them licence to bring what they have,” he says. “You give yourself a much better chance if you have an inclusive approach, if you ask more than you tell. If you’re just telling all the time, you’re driving people into decline or submission and you get less from them when it matters.”
Rugby is truly in his blood as his great uncle Bob was one of the ‘original’ All Blacks who toured Britain in 1905. Robbie and his younger brother Bruce followed in his footsteps. A full-back or fly-half, Deans played 146 games in 12 seasons for Canterbury, making him the fourth most-capped player in the team’s history, and racked up 1,641 points – more than any other Canterbury player, including Andrew Mehrtens and Dan Carter.
He won five New Zealand caps, his Test debut coming at full-back against Scotland in 1983. The family connection with the All Blacks is enhanced by wife Penny, whose brother is the former chairman of the New Zealand Rugby Union and
21-time All Black, Jock Hobbs.
Deans found even greater success as a coach. He guided Canterbury to the 1997 NPC title in his first season and became team manager for the Crusaders, who were coached by Wayne Smith. They won the Super 12 in 1998, 1999 and again in 2000, by which time Deans had taken over as coach.
More Super titles followed in 2002, 2005 and 2006, and between 2004 and 2007 they won a record 26 straight games at home. His reign ended on a high in 2008, after he’d got the Wallabies job, as his Crusaders beat the Waratahs in the final to make it seven titles.
Deans’s talent was recognised by the NZRU in 2001 when he was appointed assistant to All Blacks coach John Mitchell. The two worked together until the end of the 2003 World Cup, winning 22 of 27 Tests. Many thought Deans should have been the boss, and his fans were even more stunned when he wasn’t given the top job after the All Blacks’ RWC 2007 exit.
As New Zealand stuck with Graham Henry, Australia signed Deans on a four-year contract. Mark Hammett, his assistant at the Crusaders, said: “We were flabbergasted that he didn’t get the All Blacks job. The Wallabies are bloody lucky. He has a philosophy which he always lives by, which is you do whatever is best for the team. He questions how he can improve, intensely and often. He always asks whether it’s good for the team. If it is, do it. If it isn’t, don’t. It’s that simple.”
Results were important in Deans’s first year in charge, but more critical was the need to blood new Wallabies in time for this year’s World Cup. Key players had retired and there was a rebuilding job to do.
By the end of 2009, Deans had capped 16 new players, but the overhaul of the squad hasn’t been painless. They lost four consecutive games during the 2009 Tri-Nations and only managed two wins out of six in last year’s tournament, but Wallaby spirits have been raised by last autumn’s 26-24 victory over New Zealand and the 59-16 walloping of France.
Now Deans faces the biggest challenge of all – leading Australia at a World Cup in his homeland. He’s one of the most admired and successful coaches in world rugby, so will his side be cracking open the bubbly on 23 October? Be in no doubt, the Aussies will delight in gloating over the NZRU if Deans brings the cup ‘home’ to Sydney.
This article appeared in Part 1 of our Rugby World Cup Supplement.
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