Deans proves his mettle
Keiran Smith
September 14, 2009

Sawasdee Krup. Greetings from Bangkok where I've been in a taxi parked in traffic for the best part of two hours. So what better time to consider a Wallabies' Tri Nations campaign that's thrown up more questions than answers?

A city of immense contrasts, Bangkok shares some similarities with the Wallabies' rollercoaster month which saw them plumb the depths of despair, before a partly redeeming and heartwarming disposal of the world champions in Brisbane.

For those who have not yet visited this part of the world, it is a remarkable place and well worth the trip. The steamy weather, unique sights and exotic food all combine to ignite the senses, but for the uninitiated it can be a city of peril, not least for your stomach!

Perhaps the Wallabies were suffering from a dodgy curry before the performances against the All Blacks in Sydney and Springboks in Perth, such was the poor standard of play. The curious on-field decisions which will leave the ARU trophy cabinet as available real estate for another 12 months.

But is it a case of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Like all challenges it is what you learn during the journey that counts or as Robbie Deans has been trumpeting - the Wallabies will be better for their recent defeats.

But what else could he say after those performances?

It must have been shattering for the five-time Super Rugby winning coach to see a team of his disintegrate under the weight of their own basic errors. Some of the mistakes, particularly against the Boks in Perth, were more akin to park players rather than highly paid, professional athletes.

Deans' ashen face during the post-match press conference in Perth was revealing and it was hardly surprising the axe fell (in mercy for some) before the Brisbane Test. But what made the changes interesting were the players dropped - Luke Burgess, Richard Brown, Peter Hynes and to some extent Stephen Moore - were all introduced and championed by Deans during 2008.

Has Generation Next, as the Wallabies squad has been dubbed, suffered its first casualties?

In his first 18 months in charge it's the first time Deans has had to make a call of this type, but the encouraging sign was that he made it. The tough decisions were made and a line drawn in the sand.

This is why the Wallabies were always going to play well in Brisbane - they had nowhere else to go. As Deans put it, they had reached rock bottom and the only way was up. New scrum-half Will Genia made the most of his debut start and gave Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes the opportunity to attack, rather than retrieve wayward passes under pressure as had been the case so far.

Western Force flanker David Pocock also did well in the No.7 jersey he once dreamed of wearing. Pocock's gain is bad news for Phil Waugh who now plies his trade in Sydney's club rugby premiership. However, it's still baffling to most that the Waratahs captain, a player of more 70 Tests, is not even in a squad that has been struggling to find direction on the field.

Rocky Elsom certainly has filled part of the leadership void and for Australia to have any chance of lifting major silverware in the coming seasons, his aggression and hard running style needs to be prominent. Meanwhile, prop Benn Robinson continues to build his reputation as one of the world's best in his position after putting a huge question mark against John Smit's international career in Brisbane, such was his dominance at scrum time.

Adam Ashley-Cooper and James O'Connor have also impressed in a musical chairs backline, but quite where everyone sits once Stirling Mortlock returns is another matter.

While much has been made of the frustrating and disappointing defeats, we should remember the average age of the squad is well inside the 20s. A platform for potential success has been built, but it is only just that. We have seen glimpses of talent in the ranks, but to win frequently it needs to be matched by mental discipline, which takes much longer to develop.

I just hope the Wallabies development moves along quicker than the Bangkok traffic I'm stuck in today or none of us will be going anywhere soon.


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