Professor Mike Grimshaw Professor Mike Grimshaw CREDIT: University of Canterbury

Why coaches matter or why Robbie Deans was ousted

Tuesday 9 July 2013, 2:29PM
By University of Canterbury

The problem rugby coach Robbie Deans encountered in Australia is that he was unable to replicate the Crusaders culture, a University of Canterbury (UC) sociology expert says.

Deans was all too aware that a culture change was needed within the team and within its leadership, Professor Mike Grimshaw says. 

``The recent Lions and Australia rugby test series provide interesting examples of the differing ways the social contract is being enacted. If we consider the Australians under Robbie Deans then it appears that which was once a highly successful culture is fraying badly like a society in breakdown. 

``In comparison, the Deans years at the Crusaders developed a particular culture of community, obligation and expectation that operated on one level as a combination of finishing school and borstal.

``Difficult but talented players were shipped south and either remade or shipped out again. Those with talent gained a polish to both their games and lives. A family ethos, in fact a tribal ethos, developed that was far ahead of other franchises as they struggled to adapt to what being professional involved.

``However, as in all communities, all families, all tribes, the tribal elders determine the culture, ethos and performance. How do they adapt to the changing world? How do they adjust in ways that allow innovation that is integrated with on-going obligations and responsibilities?

``How did he integrate younger members into a set tribal structure? How did he get a mutual sense of respect in place? His problem within a professional sporting system is that the notion of the tribe is increasingly fluid.

``For if the tribe is a fluid resource so too are the tribal elders. Compare Deans to Warren Gatland. He has created a fluid tribe with the Lions. He dismissed a tribal elder in Brian O’Driscoll and believed that the culture within the Lions would succeed.

``Deans failed to create and deliver a social contract. Australia played like a society in urban breakdown. Gatland created and maintained a social contract – and that is why the Lions won.

``A social contract is a mutual engagement of management and players, of a fluid interchange of expectations and obligations. This past weekend Australia played like a dysfunctional society, the Lions played like a functioning community.’’

Professor Grimshaw will give a public lecture at UC next week (July 17) on rugby being like a religion in New Zealand. See here for details: 

He says Deans is an outstanding coach at Super rugby level and while many Australians were simply not happy about a New Zealander coaching their national side it was the lack of results that counted in the end.

``Sport is about men and women and the family of the club or team. Yet a club or team exists in a web of social contracts: the obligations and expectations that exist between team members, management, the owners, the fans and increasingly, the media.

``When coaches speak of the need to change the team culture they are always speaking of the internal social contracts within the team and the extended social contracts between the team and the wider community,’’ Professor Grimshaw says.