Warren Gatland and Robbie Deans are old foes on the rugby field – and now the former All Blacks are set to go head-to-head off the field next year as the head coaches of the Lions and Australia respectively.
But whereas it used to be a physical thing when former Waikato hooker Gatland and Canterbury full back Deans lined up against each other, come the Lions’ 10-match tour Down Under in nine months’ time it will be a tactical contest as the Lions bid to gain revenge for their 2-1 series defeat to the Wallabies in 2001.
“I have played against Warren a few times – though he probably played with and against my brother (Bruce) a little bit more so than myself – and yes, he and I did lock horns on the playing field on a couple of occasions,” said Deans.
“As a player he was a bloke who understood his role really well and was clearly part of the glue of the team, central to a lot of the human dynamics.
“He was a good bloke to have in the mix and people enjoyed his company, while he was a more than able rugby player in his own right.
“You could see his enthusiasm and enjoyment for the game in the way he played – he took an interest in and looked to embellish the group, to bring people together and enjoy the whole team aspect.”
Warren Gatland and Robbie Deans are ready for a real battle
Now it is set to be mind games between the pair following the appointment of Wales head coach Gatland to take charge of the cream of the crop from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales for the Lions’ 125th anniversary tour.
“Warren is a very experienced coach with a lot of background at international level,” added Deans.
“He has had a lot of success with two Grand Slams with the Welsh side in 2008 and 2012 – not a bad track record.
“He was part of the coaching group in 2009 when the Lions toured South Africa and he has got some runs on the board.
“He understands the importance and the history of the Lions – it is a role he will take very seriously and he will want to be successful.
“He has been in the system and worked with other coaches over there for a long time and this obviously really excites him. They do not make these appointments lightly and they obviously consider him the best man for the job.
“We will prepare and focus on what we need to do, to come together and perform as best we can, but I am sure you will see a really united group arriving on these shores – it is going to be a fantastic series.
“There is already a huge amount of interest, they will have a great following from such a big army of support and it is going to be a great time in the game.
“Their planning started some time ago, Andy Irvine has been in place for a good time, and they are well underway with their planning. I am sure they will have some cunning plans to limit us as 2001 was one of the greatest series’ of all time.”
Deans is after a repeat of Australia's 2001 success Down Under
Injury meant Gatland was not in charge when Wales played a three-Test series against the Wallabies this summer but he was at the third Test in Sydney.
“He and I caught up after the third Test and we had a good time with the Welsh boys in the changing shed once the series was concluded.
“Warren came in and we had a conversation but cards were kept pretty close to the chest. Our last fixture for the year will be against Wales at the Millennium Stadium and I am sure we will cross paths post-match and have a conversation – but for how long, who knows.”