The simple secret to Spring success: Confidence

Elisha Pearce Columnist

By , Elisha Pearce is a Roar Expert

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    As the Wallabies prepare to face their toughest tour test yet, they appear to be finding a vital ingredient for winning: confidence.

    It seems odd to talk about confidence as such an important part of a professional team’s performance, but part of the Wallabies’ performance woes this season have related to confidence issues.

    You don’t stick to attacking patterns and develop a strong defensive front without confidence in your own abilities and that of your teammates.

    I can’t point to the exact moment things changed, but the Wallabies of the 2015 World Cup were confident and then suddenly they weren’t in 2016. They weren’t perfect last year, but they adopted attacking and defensive plans and stuck to their guns. They tackled like they trusted the next man would do his job, ran like they knew the next man would support them.

    The Wallabies showed great belief to win a number of close games on the way to the final.

    There is an argument that says overachievement was a band-aid over some deeper problems at the top level of Australian rugby, but confidence was one of the key ingredients in making the most of what talent, planning time and opposition weaknesses were available.

    Big Rory Arnold looking big.

    This year the Wallabies have lacked confidence.

    Their erratic play – looking organised and focused for short periods followed by longer stints of listless and undisciplined rugby – is at least partly because they are missing that mental edge.

    Against England it all got away from them quickly in three Tests, each one building on the frailties of the last. No matter how good the flashes the Aussies showed, their slumps took them so far off the boil they couldn’t stay close enough.

    The stronger opposition meant the Wallabies were never in the first two games against the All Blacks, despite again having short periods of competence.

    After halftime in the Brisbane Test against South Africa, Rod Kafer gave us a fantastic glimpse into how frail the Wallabies’ mindset had become over the first few months of Tests this year.

    He reported that the halftime talk included a reminder not to be surprised when they actually played well.

    What a strange thing to have to say – you’d never have to if the team was confident and mentally sharp.

    It might have happened during the England series, or it could have been residue from an abysmal Australian Super Rugby season, but the best players – many having reached a World Cup final – were questioning themselves.

    There were some improvements over the second half of the Rugby Championship tournament, against South Africa and Argentina, where the pressure was reduced because of the opposition.

    But the real improvement has been on show during the Spring Tour.

    The Wallabies played consistently good rugby against Wales, and could have won that game by more if they were a little more composed with their finishing.

    Scotland were throwing everything they could at Australia in the second Test. However, despite skill errors making their life harder, and silly penalties, the Wallabies actually stuck to their guns right to the end.

    That Test was one they could have lost, Scotland were ready. But the Wallabies didn’t give up, they didn’t lapse into the same aimless rugby we’d seen earlier in the year.

    The France Test was very close, and it could be argued the Wallabies deserved to be penalised while on defence at the death.

    However, despite France being robust opponents with a chance to win the game late, Australia refused to stop playing for one another.

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    The game was very mistake-ridden at times, but that wasn’t a deterrent. The Wallabies kept the ball in hand and backed their skills and strike weapons. Earlier this year mistakes led to more erratic play, not more determined efforts.

    It was heartening that the wider squad players who got a run against France were able to show the same kind of determination and extra confidence the first team players had in the previous two Tests.

    So, with Ireland looming, the Wallabies are showing signs they believe in themselves more than at any time this season.

    They are sticking to attacking patterns and starting to trust each other enough to employ a rushing defence again.

    The Irish are an order of magnitude tougher than anything the Wallabies have faced on tour so far – you can’t snap an all-time All Blacks win steak without playing well – but the tourists might have it in them.

    Playing a team as good as Ireland, and knowing they just beat the All Blacks, poses a new test to the improved confidence of the Wallabies. They’ll have to step up, yet again.

    But they can look back on three clear improvements in three weeks to steel themselves.

    Elisha Pearce
    Elisha Pearce

    Long-time Roarer Elisha Pearce joined us as a rugby union expert in 2015. He also works for Fairfax Media and has confused more Roarers with his name than anyone in the history of the site.

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