Bruce ‘Diesel’ Deans was the halfback for one of the great All Black teams- the 1988 model. A team which in three tests, the first against Wales and the first and third against Australia that year, played rugby which touched perfection.
The obits so far have spoken of Deans’ toughness and resilience. Some writers love their clichés; there was a lot more to him than that. Modern deadlines don’t seem to permit a lot of research, but niche sites like this are much freer. So I’ll try to balance the ledger a bit.
Deans was a deadset great of Canterbury rugby. He made 116 appearances for the ‘A’ side and was one of the most vital members of the almost undoubtedly best team in Canterbury rugby history- the side from 1982-85, which repelled 25 Shield challenges, tying a record with the Auckland team of 1960-63, before finally being defeated by Auckland in the 1985 ‘Match of the Century’, a match watched by a disappointingly small crowd at Lancaster Park of only 52,000.
It was his combination with the No 8 Dale Atkins off the back of the red and blacks’ scrum was a big factor in why the Canterbury side of 1982-85 was so dominant. Unfortunately imprinted on my mind is the extremely vivid memory of Atkins-Deans combo pulverising Auckland in their 1983 Ranfurly Shield challenge. The final score was 9-31. The action produced a great line from the TV commentator Brendan Telfer: “And the national champions are being taken apart here limb by limb.”
Part of the following footage contains guile (a Deans’ ‘special’ at 2 mins 25):
Atkins and Deans so confused the Auckland defence with some of their set moves that when the Aucklanders finally began combating them in the second half the game was already out of sight. Then while Auckland was focussing their defence on the base of the scrum, the Canterbury outside backs, in particular Victor Simpson, ran through gaping holes in the midfield.
If you were an Auckland fan, it started becoming embarrassing about a third of the way through the second half. Especially so because people from the Queen City had been so bullish about their team’s chances before going down to Christchurch.
Radio Pacific’s ‘Sportsline’ show talked up the game so much I literally couldn’t sleep from the anticipation on the preceding Thursday and Friday (Ha; the glory days of provincial rugby). When that thief in the night, Arthur Stone had intercepted his way to Ranfurly Shield fame at Eden Park in 1980 it was already bad enough, but that final score in 1983 was a dagger. No exaggearation.
It was already in my DNA to fervently dislike the Cantabs and it was pretty hard to accept. I was 13 years old, but I still recall the hammering like it was last week. And Bruce Deans was at the forefront. I have a recollection of him of being clever and incisive, above all else.
Bruce Deans was All Black number 891. Like his more well-known brother, Robbie he was also a Hawke Cup cricket rep for Canterbury Country. He emanated from a form of NZ rugby royalty, and one with now an ever-increasing tragic past. His grand-uncle was Bob Deans- ‘scorer’ of the most famous non-try in All Black history in 1905, and dead at the age of only 23 in 1908.
His sister, Nicky was married to the legend that was Michael James Bowie ‘Jock’ Hobbs (CNZM), NZR’s patron saint from 1995 and former All Black captain, now gone.
Deans scored six tries in ten tests for the All Blacks in 1988-89- an especially high strike rate for a halfback. Poignantly, he scored a try on debut against Wales on his home ground of Lancaster Park- sweet revenge for his great-uncle some 83 years later.