Surviving coaches make own Cup headlines

2011-10-14 09:31

Auckland – A rivalry that splits a nation, a players’ mutiny quelled and a coach coveted by his homeland but honour-bound not to break a contract.

The coaches of the four surviving teams offer a fascinating backdrop to this weekend’s World Cup semifinal matches.

Three of them are New Zealanders – the All Blacks’ Graham Henry, Australia’s Robbie Deans and Wales’ Warren Gatland – with Frenchman Marc Lievremont experiencing the full gambit of Gallic emotions during a madcap tournament.

The All Blacks-Wallabies showdown at Eden Park on Sunday brings into sharp focus the smouldering friction between Henry and Deans, one-time rivals for the New Zealand coaching job in the fallout after the team’s disastrous quarterfinal exit at the 2007 World Cup.

The New Zealand Rugby Union’s decision to stick with Henry despite the All Blacks’ worst-ever World Cup result and ignore the impressive claims of Deans, split the country.

Deans is adored on the nation’s South Island, where he won five Super Rugby titles with the Canterbury Crusaders and it was little wonder that while spurned by his own establishment, he was swiftly snapped up by the Wallabies as their first-ever foreign coach.

Henry has gone on to accumulate an extraordinary 85% success rate with the world number one All Blacks – winning 86 of his 101 Tests – but just about everything hinges on Sunday’s game and the ultimate goal of winning New Zealand’s first World Cup in 24 years.

Deans, for his part, has reconstructed the Wallabies from the ruins of their 2007 quarterfinal defeat by England in Marseille into a vibrant, attacking, youthful side, triggering an unease within New Zealand that another All Black choke may yet play out.

But it’s been far from a smooth ride for the former All Black full-back Deans, losing 10 consecutive Bledisloe Cup Tests to Henry’s Kiwis along with painful defeats by Ireland and Samoa.

Yet significantly, the Wallabies have won two of their last three encounters against the All Blacks. Meanwhile, there have been extraordinary goings-on in the French camp at this World Cup.

Outspoken coach Lievremont, who is stepping down after the tournament, had a players’ uprising on his hands after Les Bleus suffered a pool loss, ignominiously to minnows Tonga.

Lievremont called for his players to take responsibility during a week of soul-searching and he was proud as France buried their demons with a performance of character and determination to topple 2003 champions England in the last eight.

Now apparently unified in team spirit, the French are confident of overcoming Wales in tomorrow’s semifinal at Eden Park. Gatland took over after Wales’ disastrous showing in 2007 when a loss to Fiji cost them a quarterfinal spot.

He signed a new four-year contract to take him through to the 2015 World Cup in England before this tournament started and youthful Wales have been a revelation in New Zealand.

With Gatland doing all the right things for Wales, there has been increasing talk New Zealand may go after the former Waikato hooker to replace the outgoing Henry, despite what Welsh officials insist is a “watertight” deal. 

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