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After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.

Ruck'n Maul
Ewen McKenzie was the best candidate
Greg Growden
July 12, 2013

When Robbie Deans was appointed Wallabies coach in 2008, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) gave him the prime directive to improve team culture. He did for a time, ridding the Wallabies squad of deadwood and introducing a tribe of young, vibrant players. But his devotion to several young guns inevitably led to his downfall. Numerous Wallabies rock stars took advantage of Deans, and behavioural standards slipped. Off-field incidents were never-ending. Most disturbingly, the Wallabies squad became divided, with senior members upset by what they perceived as Deans being far too lenient on several youngsters who were constantly in trouble. Deans could have got away with it if the Wallabies consistently won the big matches. They didn't. In the end, Deans' death-or-glory moment was picking James O'Connor at No.10 for the British & Irish Lions series. That was a flop. And so Deans is gone. Credit where credit is due. This column has been critical of the ARU on numerous issues, but they got it right here. It was time for Deans to go. The ARU realised that some time ago, with whispers Deans was under serious pressure starting to bubble shortly before the Lions series. And the ARU picked the right replacement in Ewen McKenzie. Despite some on the ARU board having their reservations about McKenzie, sanity has prevailed and the right candidate was chosen to get the Wallabies back on track. It doesn't matter if he is an Australian or not … McKenzie is the best candidate.

James O'Connor must grow up

The biggest give-up of the week goes to Melbourne Rebels waving goodbye to James O'Connor. How embarrassing that the Test No.10 can't even get a gig with his own province. It says a lot about how O'Connor's cocky behaviour has upset so many. Another sign came when O'Connor approached New South Wales Waratahs recently to see if they were interested; he was told to "come back when you've grown up".

Dull Deans did not help himself

One of the most telling quotes about the Deans demise came from a long-time supporter- the excellent New Zealand Herald columnist Chris Rattue. He wrote this week: "The walled-off persona of the Wallaby coach - with his cold, useless public utterances delivered through clenched teeth - may have helped to keep success at bay." It's no secret that large sections of the Australian media, sick of years of Deans' bland reveal-nothing comments, had turned off him some time ago.

Richard Graham breathing easier

Fascinating to see Queensland Rugby Union (QRU) officials saying publicly last week that they hoped to reopen negotiations with Ewen McKenzie in a bid to persuade him to stay at Ballymore if he missed out on the Wallabies job; Ruck'n Maul revealed many weeks ago that several Queensland officials were keen to hold onto McKenzie, even though he had told them he would be moving on at the end of the season. These officials were worried by the effect of McKenzie leaving, with numerous leading players close to the coach threatening to depart. These R'nM items prompted denials from the QRU officials, who clearly did not want to upset McKenzie's coaching successor - Richard Graham. Our items about how the Reds had for a long time been desperate to hold onto McKenzie, were 100% right; it has just taken the QRU an eternity to admit the truth. McKenzie is now moving on, however, and Graham can breathe a lot easier.

ARU hopefully have learned from mistakes

McKenzie's case to be the next Test coach was pushed very strongly by several former high-profile Wallabies, who stressed to the ARU last week that officials would be mad to offer the job instead to Jake White. They all argued that McKenzie had the best credentials for the job, and would provide the right game plan that apart from making the Wallabies a winning outfit would lure back spectators. Thankfully the ARU listened. Also, hopefully, the ARU have learned the folly of not staging lead-up matches before major Test series. Having the Wallabies cocooned for several weeks at a Sunshine Coast training camp was a serious blunder. Footballers need regular matches. It's as simple as that, and organising a lead-up match isn't that hard to do. It's just involves getting your priorities right.

Richards family a special clan

Tom Richards
Tom Richards was a remarkable man © Unknown
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The Tom Richards Cup has departed Australia for at least 12 years; at least many members of Tom Richards' family were there for the last sighting of the trophy for some time. The cup was named after an exceptional person - a master footballer, soldier and writer, who is the only Australian-born Test player to have also represented the British & Irish Lions. The star of the first Wallabies tour in 1908, Richards played two Tests for the Lions in South Africa two years later. At ANZ Stadium for the third Lions Test on Saturday night was Tom's remarkable daughter Joan Menck, two of Tom's grandsons, four great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren. Having written Tom's biography and recently edited his World War I war diaries, which includes a graphic description of the landing of Gallipoli, I can vouch for the fact that they are a special clan.

Cheika balancing ARU's Folau blues

If Israel Folau eventually decides to stick with rugby union, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika deserves an enormous amount of credit. While numerous ARU and NSW Rugby union officials have done all they can to stuff it up, Cheika has worked hard to stop Folau from moving back to rugby league. While officials have bungled proposed third-party deals, Cheika has focused on ensuring the player is happy while convincing him that his future should be in union - especially as Folau has quickly become the Wallabies most marketable product. ARU boss Bill Pulver's unnecessary comments that Folau would ensure by staying in rugby that his away game was Cape Town rather than Campbelltown did not go down well with some of Folau's connections; after all, Folau hails from near Campbelltown. Sometimes it's better to say nothing.

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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