Over the weekend, New Zealand’s public enemy number 1 — Quade Cooper — let the genie out of the bottle with his open criticism of the whole Wallabies administration. Much of the media is painting this as a simple Giteau-esque player fallout between Deans and Cooper.
Is it? Or is it actually the spearhead for a semi-coordinated putsch to bring to a head a coaching and leadership arrangement in the Wallabies that just no longer holds water?
The brouhaha started with an AAP interview on Thursday in which Cooper asserted that the Wallabies were certainly not going to beat the All Blacks playing the way they have since the 2011 World Cup, and that the Wallabies need to get back to an attacking brand of footy if they want to beat the Kiwis and keep the fans on side. A subtle, coded jab.
Then on Saturday — in front of my very eyes on Twitter — he let rip a little further.
And there was this tweet, which was later deleted: ‘I love rugby but there’s shit going on behind and above the players the effects the whole organisation! Happens at the reds few years back,
Woah there! A drunken Twitter spray, maybe between Xbox FIFA matches? No sir. In his next interview on Sunday, far from backing down, Quade stuck the knife in a little further:
There’s a lot of people who are afraid to say what they feel so they just go along with it and nothing is going to change. That’s why I feel so strongly as a player. I don’t want to be involved in the toxic environment, and that’s how it is at the moment. It’s an environment where things aren’t going according to plan and everyone is looking to point the finger.
Strong stuff. For those thinking this is all aimed squarely at Robbie Deans, though, I’m not so sure. Deans’s name clearly hangs above the door, and Cooper even goes as far as talking about working under McKenzie as the next Wallabies coach, so he’s painting a clear picture of a key change that needs to happen.
However, is it likely for this one man to create the whole ‘toxic environment’ that Quade refers to? G&GR’s inside mail is that the Wallabies coaching setup is ‘pretty loose’. That’s hardly surprising, considering Deans didn’t chosen any of his now-assistant coaches (including the ‘Coaching Coordinator’) and that David Nucifora — an original rival for Robbie’s job — never seems to be far away, including being responsible for the review of Robbie’s (and his) World Cup performance.
It’s an open secret that Nuci is on a promise for first crack at the head coaching role if and when Robbie is finally moved on, and the whispers are that relations between the two coaches are understandably stretched thin. That John O’Neill — a man who’s made plenty of the hard, but right decisions in the past — cannot see that this is now a situation so horribly compromised that there is only one path of action left to take, is baffling.
One has to assume that the bold steps O’Neill took to start and then prolong the Deans experiment has left him believing his fate is lashed to the mast of the Cantabrian’s. O’Neill’s publicised flirtation with Manchester City last year, and now his actual Chairmanship of a whole other company in Echo, scream pretty loudly as to how he feels that ship is sailing and where he sees his future.
So now imagine you are a candidate for Wallabies head coach or the ARU CEO position. The 2013 Lions tour is surely your key prize, and to get a decent run at it you’ll need the 2012 Spring Tour under your belt.
At half-time against the Pumas last Saturday you could see it all falling beautifully into place, when a gutsy but bloody inconvenient Wallabies performance corked up the leaking hull of SS Dingo Deans just enough for it to set sail to South Africa and South America, even listing as dangerously as it is. Losses away from home may not even be enough to sink it now, and God forbid a win on the road.
Undoubtedly the time to strike would be now. When better to hold a coup than when the head of state is physically out of the country? It’s the classic modus operandi for coach sackings: by the time they get back from tour the deal is done.
I’m not necessarily saying Quade was put up to all his statements. The initial forays — especially the tweets — are certainly in his voice. But the phrase ‘toxic environment’? That really doesn’t sound like the Twitter star whose latest tweet, as of time of publishing, was
The beauty of ‘toxic environment’ is that it doesn’t just point the finger at poor Dingo, but at all of those currently implicated in the administration. This is important, because if O’Neill does manage to cast away from SS Dingo in time, ‘caretaker coach’ Nucifora and his hand-picked band of incumbent assistants will prove very difficult to dislodge before the Lions arrive in June.
Is this grassy knoll stuff? Maybe. But even if the Twitter rumour of Deans’s departure a few weeks ago was a furphy, it certainly raises the questions of who started it and why.
Regardless the style of play the Wallabies employ on the field over the next few weeks, the action off it should be fascinating.