This week sees the start of the greatest spectacle in world rugby – the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Twenty countries vying for the title of champions; it makes the hairs on my arms bristle with excitement just thinking about it.
Having had the honour and privilege of donning the gold jersey (albeit not in a World Cup), I can tell you that there is not a single player, trainer, manager, coach or administrator that does not need our support at this crucial time.
When you come into the Wallabies you leave everything else behind. You are the one chosen to represent your country and who you played for previously is irrelevant.
In 1981, the Wallabies left Australia’s shores on a three-month tour of the United Kingdom in an effort to win the Grand Slam. At that point in history, this was the holy grail of UK rugby.
We failed in that attempt and much had been written by well intentioned but ignorant writers about the alleged disunity in the camp and the supposed divide between players from Queensland and those New South Wales.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. The divide did not exist and every player on that tour viewed themselves as Australians first, second and third.
So too will the 2015 Wallabies as they seek to conquer the mightiest mountain in rugby today.
The main issue we had back then was one of philosophy. A number of players, including myself, had returned with the Wallabies just four short years after sweeping everything before us at schoolboy level on the 1977 tour.
The exhilarating brand of running rugby played during that tour was the result of an absolute and unshakeable belief in keeping the ball in-hand by our coach Geoff Mould, who learnt his trade from the late Cyril Towers.
Coupled with this belief were training sessions that focussed on passing skills and a narrow alignment, the likes of which has never really been seen since.
The late Bob Templeton was Wallabies coach on that tour, and a better man you would not find. He was also the coach of Queensland which played a very traditional brand of 10-man rugby, utilising the tremendous kicking skills of Paul McLean, and the power of the formidable Queensland forward pack. This had proven extremely successful at provincial level.
The tour captain was Wallabies great Tony Shaw, who like everyone else on the tour was highly passionate about representing their country and doing their best. The backrowers alone on that tour included Mark Loane, Greg Cornelsen, Simon Poidevin, Peter Lucas and Tom Barker. Not to mention the backs which included the likes of the Ella brothers, Michael O’Connor, Andrew Slack and Roger Gould.
Blending those two philosophies together was impossible as neither Templeton nor the other senior members of the side had experienced the running rugby style espoused by Mould and Towers.
Nevertheless, that 1981 side remains tightly knit today. Friendships and character were forged in the cauldron of a common cause way back then, and the same is happening now.
Each player of today’s 31-man squad and the support group deserves the total support of every rugby loving Australian. It means a lot to know you have your country united behind you.
Imagine yourself in that group. Imagine how you would feel knowing that the hopes of a nation rest on your shoulders.
Imagine what is going through your mind. You are wearing the gold of your nation. You are standing naked before the world, ready to give everything that you have in the pursuit of World Cup success.
When our players are on the field facing the crowd, and the Australian anthem is played, it matters that we all sing it, for at that moment, we are one voice.
We are united in a common cause. Our hopes and dreams are the same.
The players know that all Aussies around the world we will be willing them on. From the stands of Twickenham, to the pubs, clubs, offices, schools and homes across our nation – from the Australian outback to the shores of Bondi Beach.
Our lads are proud Australians, and will seek to stand tall in the eyes of their peers, their opponents, their loved ones and their country.
They are bloody good rugby players and capable of anything. Like them their coach is passionate and happy to sweat tears of blood if it means getting the lads over the line.
They can win this.
Above all, please remember, our lads are human. It is time to stop all criticism and use our words to put wind beneath their wings. Let’s see how high they fly, and fly with them.
The Wallabies are not just 31 players and a coach. We are all part of the Wallabies – from the tiniest tot who takes a liking to our game to the oldest rugby loving Australian alive today. Not to mention those who have gone before but are no longer with us.
We know that whether our representatives succeed in this campaign or fall short, they will have given their all. And we all get to bask in the glow of victory or suffer in the shade of defeat.
In either case, I know we will be gracious. I also know that either way, our spirit is never beaten.
For we are Australian. We are the Wallabies.