A little after 6pm on Wednesday, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans sat with Dave Dennis in the foyer of the team’s hotel at Pelican Waters, near Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast.
The meeting was brief – less than two minutes – and ended with the Waratahs forward nodding, standing up and walking away.
What was said between them was for their ears only. And while Deans often meets with players individually, the brevity of their chat made you think.
Some clarity came the next morning, when it was announced Dennis was one of four players to be released from the Wallabies squad to play the British and Irish Lions.
In his case, and that of Waratahs centre Rob Horne, it was for Saturday’s game against the Lions at Allianz Stadium.
For prop Scott Sio and back-rower Peter Kimlin, their releases were to allow them to play for the Brumbies against the Lions in Canberra on Tuesday.
Initially, their release led some to interpret it as a signal the four players had missed out on Wallabies selection for the first Test in Brisbane next Saturday.
But then the tongues started wagging. This is a Lions series after all. Cloak-and-dagger stuff. A week earlier, we were treated to the very first ”spy master” controversy of the tour with Lions coach Warren Gatland accusing the Wallabies of sending officials to secretly watch and record their training sessions.
Deans flatly denied the claim. He then laughed the claims off in an attempt to deflect from the subject.
But was Deans already plotting something bigger? Such as sending Dennis and Horne to play the Lions to not only bolster the Waratahs’ chances of testing and revealing more of the Lions game on the field at Allianz Stadium, but to also gain first-hand intelligence on their game strengths and weaknesses, which they can bring back to the Wallabies camp?
Deans will have taken plenty from the Waratahs game against the Lions that the tourists won 47-17. He, much like the 40,805-strong crowd, will have noted the strength and speed of their direct running and interplay, their ability to switch at their whim from a tight midfield game to a free and fast running game, the intricacies of their scrum and lineout and the effectiveness of work at the breakdown to the impact of their powerful rush defence.
But only from the coalface can Deans reap what it is like to face the Lions. And in Dennis and Horne, he will have gained a mountain of ”intel” to work on. From Dennis, at No.8, what will count is his experience against a pack led by Lions captain No.7 Sam Warburton. From Horne, who played at No. 13, will come the lessons he can pass on from facing a Lions centre combination as strong as Jamie Roberts – until he hobbled off injured late in the game – and Jonathan Davies showed to be.
Should Dennis and Horne wake up on Sunday injury free, they should also be match fit to face the Lions again if selected for the Wallabies’ 22-player match line-up. And that is a valuable asset in a Wallabies squad that collectively has not played a game since the spring tour last year while the Lions have played five and have a Brumbies fixture to go. With Reds winger Luke Morahan, who played the Lions last week, Dennis and Horne are now the only Wallabies squad members to have played the Lions. If experience counts for anything, at least they can say they have it.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.