x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Personnel leak vexes Robbie Deans and Australia ahead of British & Irish Lions tour

A leaked questionnaire Robbie Deans had sent coaches in the Super Rugby league causes tension ahead of the announcement of Australia's team for the British & Irish Lions tour next month.

Quade Cooper, right, has been superlative of late, but many coaches in Super Rugby do not think him worthy of selection by Australia when the Wallabies face the visiting British & Irish Lions.
Quade Cooper, right, has been superlative of late, but many coaches in Super Rugby do not think him worthy of selection by Australia when the Wallabies face the visiting British & Irish Lions.

BRISBANE, Australia // Three days before Australian rugby officials will announce their team to face the British & Irish Lions in a three-Test series, the big question is who leaked a confidential memo outlining which players should be included.

According to reports, most Super Rugby coaches in Australia did not think Quade Cooper would make the grade for the Wallabies when they were surveyed a month ago, while another declined to answer a selection questionnaire from national head coach Robbie Deans.

Only Deans knew the results, and as usual, kept the details close to his chest.

Now it is public information after an email that Deans sent to the five provincial coaches with a squad based on the collated responses was leaked and published in a newspaper.

The result, only a few days before the 25-man squad is announced on Sunday, is anger among the coaches, mystification by the fans and speculation from the national daily newspaper that it was a deliberate leak to soften the fallout for selectors if Cooper and blockbusting New South Wales fullback Israel Folau miss initial selection.

The Australian Rugby Union has denied the information was leaked from the administrative end.

Both Cooper and Folau, in his first year in professional rugby union, have been in outstanding form in the past few weeks for the Reds and Waratahs, respectively, certainly putting themselves in the frame for selection. The leaked email imbroglio has certainly added some intrigue to the selection for what is a once-in-a-career series for the Australians - the Lions visit only every 12 years - with Cooper on the outside since being fined for speaking out about a "toxic environment" in the Wallabies set-up last year and a below-par performance at the 2011 World Cup.

Western Force coach Michael Foley thinks the email leak could be an unwelcome distraction for players ahead of the Lions series.

Foley, who played for the Wallabies against the Lions on their last Australia tour in 2001, was among the four Super Rugby coaches who did put forward their suggestions for the national squad to Deans.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika was the only one who declined, according to reports.

"I feel more for the players that have to read that sort of thing in the media, and then try to second-guess things, when all they should be thinking about right now is how they're going to play," Foley said in Perth yesterday. "I've been on the other side of the fence as a player, aspiring to try to make a Lions series, which is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

"I think this sort of media speculation on the eve of the squad being announced could be a potential distraction."

Foley has coached in Europe and at New South Wales before moving to the Force this season.

He said he would not be deterred from giving the Wallabies coach his input in future.

"I think the dialogue between the national head coach and the head coaches of the states should be open," Foley said. "That dialogue is extremely important and wouldn't make me reluctant in the future.

"We just move on. I don't know if a witch hunt helps anybody, but I would like to know where [the leak] came from."

Other Australian teams have been distracted by internal correspondence getting into the public domain. Former Australia cricket coach John Buchanan created a stir when he accidentally slipped plans targeting the New Zealand team under the wrong door at the team hotel in 2000.

The cricket team was embarrassed again a dozen years later when a secret dossier compiled ahead of the South Africa series was published in newspapers.

The Australians joked about the merits of the report, but lost the three-Test series 1-0.

The leak in rugby has not been a laughing matter for coaches or players. The national news agency published a story yesterday leading with the question: Who leaked the email?

Without identifying them, it quoted coaches as saying the leak was "poor form" and "to read it in the paper verbatim is frustrating".

Another of the coaches told The Australian newspaper that he would question in future whether he should cooperate, adding: "We followed the process in good faith. Would you do it again? I'm not sure."

* Associated Press