Where to now for the Wallabies after Saturday’s imperfect but committed and admirable effort?
Their followers with good memories will be reflecting on an improved performance with a sense of contentment yet simultaneously hosing down the expectancy levels that with the knowledge that over recent years an unwelcome tag has been owned by Australia: they are the kings of the false dawn.
In pertinent pre-match and post-match comments from Nathan Sharpe and Robbie Deans it is clear that captain and coach are painfully aware of the frailty.
That they are on the same page gives hope that it can be erased.
“We like a challenge,” Sharpe said in the days before the third Bledisloe. “It probably fits the Australian psyche a little bit. When the back’s to the wall, the guys love to show their character. That’s a strength, but it’s also a weakness and something we’ve got to get away from in Australian rugby.”
The coach followed that up with: “If the boys turn up like they did last night it will be a good tour.”
Of the frustrations Deans feels – you suspect that his much-criticised communication style is, in part, a diplomatic necessity to prevent himself saying what he really thinks – it is surely this lack of consistent intensity that vexes him the most.
When the Wallabies have needed to back up, they have folded.
And when they have been on the ropes, inspiration has been found to come out swinging. As Sharpe pointed out, it is a difficult way to build anything of substance. Perhaps the pair need to sneak looped recordings of the Ireland, Samoa, Scotland and World Cup semi-final performances onto the in-flight system en route to Paris.
At least if you break their game down encouraging signs can be detected.
Only one try has been conceded in the past two Tests, Ben Tapuai is an underrated package of smarts and a low centre of gravity (you cannot mark the player’s cards because of one missed overlap in the infancy of his Test career), Wycliff Palu returned with the vigour that is reserved to players who are aware that careers are fragile and in the past two encounters Benn Robinson has just submitted the best 120 minutes of his year.
Of other improvements Kurtley Beale is growing with each outing at No.10. He gives no sleepless nights with his defensive work in his channel and his tactical kicking from hand, particularly those deep restarts, is putting his team into some good areas.
The Wallabies had 57 per cent of the territory in Brisbane, although admittedly not enough in the All Blacks’ 22.
Accordingly, expectations for the northern tour may have been revised upwards since the disappointment of Pretoria, where a heavy injury toll as the game progressed could not disguise the lack of sting in the early exchanges. The Wallabies were second-best from the outset that day.
Three wins from four of the upcoming assignments would represent a commendable return, while an uncommon clean sweep would be a statement.
Thierry Dusatoir is likely to be out of the French game (“we lose more than a player…” was the melancholic response from one French tweeter on Monday) while the Welsh will be denied access to several of their best because they play with French clubs and the December 1 game falls outside the IRB window.
Theoretically, although here we must acknowledge Australia’s capacity for self-destruction, Italy in Florence should represent a win for the visitors, but Twickenham is always a nervous occasion.
Three from four is achievable.
With two, Australia would enter 2013, a Lions year and a massive one for the code, with familiar doubts in the air.