London – Robbie Deans has been a divisive figure in Australian rugby ever since the New Zealander was appointed to coach the Wallabies four years ago.
And heading into Saturday's Cook Cup clash with England at Twickenham, two Australia greats David Campese and Michael Lynagh are in deep disagreement about the former All Blacks full-back's merits.
Australia, renowned for running rugby, come into this match having gone nearly three hours without a try, a run that includes both a dramatic 18-18 draw with world champions New Zealand and last weekend's crushing 33-6 defeat by France in Paris.
Not only did Australia concede a penalty try to France from a scrum – something that won't have escaped the attention of England's forwards – they were also outplayed with ball in hand.
For Campese, who scored 64 tries in 101 Tests, it was all too much.
“Deans has destroyed Australian rugby and I want him to go,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“Anyone who knows anything about Australian rugby, knows what it's famous for – loops, angles, switches, counter-attack, creative play. Where's all that gone? We can't even pass properly.”
Deans, who this year has awarded 14 new caps, used 41 players in 12 Tests and selected four different captains, responded Thursday by saying:”It's great that David's passionate about the game still and particularly the Wallaby jersey.
“But I really don't want to comment any further.
“It's not about me, it's about the team and helping them do what they do.
“France was a performance we weren't proud of and we want to address it.”
Lynagh, who starred alongside Campese in the Australia team that beat England in the 1991 World Cup final at Twickenham, was in a more forgiving mood, highlighting the loss through injury of several key players including outstanding openside David Pocock.
“We do miss Pocock, Will Genia and James Horwill because they are all Wallaby captains and you need that kind of experience at Test level,” Lynagh told the London Evening Standard.
“It would be great to have a few other attacking weapons around to take the heat off (fly-half) Kurtley Beale. I do believe Deans is a good coach and he hasn't turned into a bad one overnight.”
Digby Ioane's return could give Australia an extra cutting edge this weekend, with the wing one of four changes made by Deans.
Ioane will be up against against a powerful wing in Chris Ashton, whose return from suspension is the only change to the England side that beat Fiji 54-12 at Twickenham last week, where sloppy errors stronger sides will punish were offset by seven tries and full-back Alex Goode's growing assurance as an auxiliary playmaker.
Two years ago Ashton scored one of the great Twickenham tries when he ran nearly the length of the field in a 35-18 victory over Australia.
“We're looking for a bit of what Chris Ashton delivers in matches,” explained Lancaster. “He chases the ball, creates line breaks, makes opportunities for others and takes them himself.”
But it's nine appearances since Ashton scored the last of his 15 Test tries and he admitted: “It's killing me not scoring for England.”
Victory for England on Saturday would be a huge boost to the 2015 World Cup hosts chances of acquiring a top four ranking that will give them a leading seeding at next month's pool draw for the global showpiece.
“We will need to step up (against Australia) and our training this week has reflected that,” said Lancaster. – Sapa-AFP