Deans buoyed by Super 14 showing
May 19, 2010
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is all smiles as he speaks to the media in Sydney © Getty Images
Australia may be confronting a mounting injury toll but coach Robbie Deans has taken heart from this season's Super 14 ahead of an ominous Test programme.
Although prized assets such as halfback Will Genia, loosehead prop Benn Robinson and hooker Stephen Moore will miss the start of the Wallabies 20-match schedule, Deans has expressed relief at finally surveying a deepening player pool. Although Genia - an inspired Deans' selection last season - Robinson and Moore could be out of action until the Wallabies open their Tri-Nations campaign in July, the improved performance of Australia's four franchises ensured those voids could be filled, at least temporarily.
"It's amazing how quickly time moves," Deans said. "This time last year Willie (Genia) had never played for the Wallabies, we had no teams in the Super 14 playoffs - we now have three in the top six and one in the playoffs. We also have more depth. We've been working towards being able to roll with those injuries and form and not be totally reliant on a few. We're getting to the point now where that's becoming a reality."
Until this year - his third in charge - Deans and his co-selectors had relatively lean pickings to choose from in key positions. Now the options are hardly limitless, but Deans said a greater number of test candidates had emerged after a Super 14 that saw a remarkable resurgence by the Reds - and the Waratahs still in contention for a historic title.
Quade Cooper's starring role at the Reds provides a genuine alternative to Matt Giteau or Berrick Barnes at fly-half; Graham Henry's back-up plan for Dan Carter is not as clear cut. While the Queenslander's impressive climb to fifth on the ladder is well documented, an injury-hit Western Force were also strong in key facets, notably the loose forward trio.
Both sides also toppled the Crusaders, while Deans also cited the Waratahs elimination of the Hurricanes last weekend as another encouraging sign before the first Wallabies squad is named on Sunday week for the June 5 test with Fiji in Canberra.
"Those steps are important, it's the step we've got to take. That's why it would be great to see the Waratahs push on," Deans said. "The franchises have hung in and achieved results where a year prior they would have capitulated. The Reds are a great example of that."
Still, Deans is vague about whether this newfound positivity will manifest itself in silverware. Could the end of a seven-match losing streak against the All Blacks be imminent? "That's what we're chasing. We're working towards it, I'm not going to say anything beyond that," he said, before adding: "We'll be in there mixing it. Yes, we are capable of achieving."
That quest will start without Genia, who is three weeks away from running after straining knee ligaments during last weekend's cliff-hanger against the Highlanders in Brisbane. He will definitely miss the season-opener against Fiji but may return in the subsequent June internationals - two against England and a one-off test against Ireland.
The Waratahs Luke Burgess is supposedly the next in line though Deans, illustrating the greater depth at his disposal, said Justin Turner had made an impression at the Western Force where he is understudy to veteran Brett Sheehan.