Luckless Deans finally catches a break
Australia coach Robbie Deans is not the sort of man to get excited by a draw, even if it is against World Cup winners New Zealand, but after the season he has endured he might have allowed himself a scintilla of satisfaction on Saturday night.
Had his inexperienced team shown a little more composure in the dying minutes of the 18-18 draw with the All Blacks at Lang Park, they might have become the first side to beat the world champions in 17 tests.
As it was, the match was nearly stolen from them at the death by Dan Carter, only for the usually unerring boot of the New Zealand flyhalf to fail him in a drop goal attempt with the last kick of the match.
Still, a draw in a match few had given the Wallabies any chance of winning will relieve the unrelenting pressure that Deans has been under this year - for a couple of weeks at least.
The New Zealander said holding the All Blacks tryless and being in a position to win the game were pleasing elements but he had been most impressed by the attitude of his players.
"Just the obvious meaning to the group in what they are doing, that's what the game is all about and they had it in spades tonight," Deans said.
"Sure there were unforced errors, uncharacteristic errors from some, but you can't fault they way they put it in."
Without that strength of character, Deans might already be looking for a new job.
The international season started about as badly as it could have, with defeat to Scotland in a match shoe-horned into the schedule as a favour to the visitors and played in gale force winds and lashing rain.
Fortunately for Deans, who immediately came under fire from the media, his team recovered to sweep Six Nations champions Wales in a tight three-match series.
By then, though, the trickle of injuries that started with the freak hamstring blow to captain James Horwill was well on its way to becoming a flood.
Deans lost his most influential players one by one, with back James O'Connor, flanker David Pocock and scrumhalf Will Genia among those heading for the treatment room.
By the time he selected his team to face the All Blacks for the third time this season on Saturday, he was without up to 20 regular squad players and was forced to pick his 12th debutant in 11 tests this year.
IN GOOD HANDS
The first two matches against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship had not gone so well, with defeat at home in Sydney and then, in Auckland, the humiliation of a first shutout in half a century against the All Blacks.
That ratcheted up the pressure on Deans once more, but again his team responded, winning three of their last four tests to finish second in the competition behind New Zealand and retain their second place in the world rankings.
While the squad were on the road, however, Quade Cooper's contract negotiations with the Australian Rugby Union took a twist when the injured flyhalf said he would not play for the Wallabies unless changes were made to the "toxic" atmosphere around the team.
Although Queensland Reds officials have indicated that Cooper has since softened his position, he is unlikely to be a factor when Deans chooses his squad for the trip to Europe next month for tests against France, England, Italy and Wales.
Deans will at least have a healthy captain to lead the party after 112-cap Nathan Sharpe agreed to further postpone his retirement. The 34-year-old was firm, though, that he would not be sticking around for the British and Irish Lions tour of Australia next year.
"I'll leave the game in four games and I'll leave it in safe hands, there's a great bunch of boys in that dressing room and they'll take Australian rugby forward," the combative lock said.
Deans does not expect to have many of his injured players back for the November tests, and is likely to lose Scott Higginbotham for at least one match after the flanker was cited for headbutting Richie McCaw in Saturday's match.
He does, however, expect the enforced blooding of younger players to pay dividends in the long run as Australia continues to try to bridge the gap with the All Blacks.
"We've got to keep going, keep building depth, which we're doing. We're going to get some great pay out of the experience this group is getting," he said.
"We've just got to keep going, and who knows?"