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ARU back Deans ahead of crucial year
Joe Barton
19:24 AEST Tue Dec 11 2012

Australian Rugby Union chairman Michael Hawker has made a passionate defence of the Wallabies' season ahead of a make-or-break year for coach Robbie Deans.

Deans may struggle to push on beyond his contract which finishes in 2013 following a season in which the Wallabies dropped from second to third in the world rankings and played a brand of rugby which delivered just 15 tries in 15 games.

Hawker admitted 2013 shaped as a significant year for Deans and the Wallabies, with the three-Test British and Irish Lions' Australian tour the biggest indicator of success in the coming 12 months.

"I think for coaches every year is make or break," Hawker said on Tuesday.

"That's the nature of coaching. I don't think Robbie takes anything for granted.

"For us, I think everyone in the Australian public is pretty keen to win all the games.

"So is Robbie, and he'll do the best he can to do that. In the board's view we've got every chance of defeating the Lions next year.

"... Next year is a huge year. (The Lions tour) always creates a huge wave of anticipation in this country, seeing the best of the northern hemisphere come here.

"We're pretty keen to try and thump them."

Despite the Wallabies' dour playing style it hasn't hampered participation rates across the country, with the ARU announcing on Tuesday a fourth consecutive year of growth - with player numbers totalling 323,115 in 2012.

Hawker said it was unfair to criticise the Wallabies simply on their record of nine wins, five losses and a draw - pointing to the unprecedented number of injuries which rocked the national team this year.

Playmakers Will Genia, Quade Cooper, James O'Connor and Kurtley Beale all missed significant portions of 2012, as did skipper James Horwill and world-class flanker David Pocock.

"From the Australian Rugby Union we're happy with where the Australian team is. We'd like to have less injuries and I think if didn't have as many injuries we'd have been right up the top," Hawker said.

"... You've got to put the Wallabies performance in context with how many injuries we've had.

"We've had 55 people play for the Wallabies this year which is a pretty broad number of players and so we've had an unusual level of injury rate.

"... You look at some of the international teams (and) if you took Carter and Richie McCaw out in New Zealand you have a different proposition."

So severe was the injury crisis Hawker revealed it had prompted an internal investigation, the result of which was a new process to handle injured players.

"We've actually just approved a better player management process between the Australian Rugby Union and the Super Rugby franchises to make sure that a player's welfare is managed right collectively across those two levels of the game," he said.