This is a heartfelt article from a long-suffering fan who has also been a critic of the underperforming Wallabies.
It’s been about a dozen years at least when we could say the Wallabies approached anything near ‘great’. That’s too long in anyone’s book.
The one significant word that describes the 2015 Wallabies compared to previous recent years, is ‘attitude’. Yet there have been individual Wallabies who have always possessed the requisite attitude.
The first current player that springs to mind is David Pocock. Yet head coach Michael Cheika’s great gift has been in permeating the rest of the team with the same attitude that those like Pocock possess.
How has he managed to do what Ewen McKenzie, Robbie Deans, John Connolly and Eddie Jones before him have been unable to do?
Before returning to the discussion of these coaches, I would like to digress briefly.
I’ve been wondering how best to begin this post so I will use as my opening analogy a long ago episode from the TV Western Bonanza.
The family patriarch Ben Cartwright is standing with his sons Adam, Hoss and Little Joe in their living room as they discuss one of the many moral dilemmas of life.
Ben hands each son a single chopstick and asks them in turn to snap it in two, which they easily do.
He then hands each son in turn a whole bunch of chopsticks tightly bound together and asks them to snap the bundle in two. But they are unable to do so.
Ben quickly arrives at the poignant punch-line: “Individually, each of us can be easily broken. But together, united, we remain unbroken”.
I’m sure Cheika found his own analogy to motivate this Wallabies team, but whatever it was, it has worked a treat.
It is often said that attitude is the single most important characteristic an individual can possess. Have the right attitude, and you can achieve almost anything.
I have a favourites folder tucked away in my computer full of motivational sayings, which I rarely look at but now will have to give closer attention to.
Many of these Wallabies players are the same who have been underperforming in the gold jersey under Mckenzie, or Deans, or Connolly, or Jones.
But it seems they are willing to give everything for Cheika. How did he achieve this?
I profess I don’t really know, but I certainly have a new found respect for the power of attitude.
Cheika’s two immediate predecessors McKenzie and Deans possessed outstanding coaching credentials as well as rugby pedigree.
McKenzie is not only an-ex Wallaby, but is regarded as the finest tight-head prop produced by this country. He won a Super Rugby title with the Queensland Reds.
Deans is also an ex-international with the All Blacks, and his ancestral rugby pedigree traces all the way back to the 1905-06 Originals that toured the UK, Ireland and France.
Deans won five Super Rugby titles with the Canterbury Crusaders. At the time of his selection as Wallaby coach in 2008, Deans was considered the best qualified provincial coach in the business.
Unlike McKenzie and Deans, the closest Cheika got to experiencing international rugby was as a member of the Randwick district club against the All Blacks back in 1988.
Cheika forged a reputation as one of the hardest, and according to some, dirtiest players of his time in Sydney Shute Shield.
But none of this would bother Cheika. In order to win, you do what you need to do.
Yet neither McKenzie nor Deans, nor Connolly nor Jones before them, for all their impressive personal records and reputation as decent men, have been able to achieve what Cheika has achieved.
By his own account Cheika set out to provide the Wallabies with their own identity and culture, which borrowed from the All Blacks but at the same time, sought to be unique to themselves.
He has quickly given his players a self-belief, and provided an environment whereby the players now are willing to give everything to the team, to each other and to their coaches.
Cheika has surrounded himself with a coaching staff in which each man has contributed significantly. In a short time, four different personalities have gelled into an incredibly effective coaching force.
Head coach Michael Cheika has provided the clear direction, operating blueprint and delegation of responsibility that has been enthusiastically accepted by everyone in the squad.
Backs coach Steve Larkham has been instrumental in nurturing Bernard Foley’s attacking instincts and giving a polish to a previous rough diamond. Clever tries were executed against England.
Defensive coach Nathan Grey’s hand was seen in the defensive screen applied against Wales when the Wallabies were two men down. Every man covered for each other and trusted implicitly the man next to him.
The defence moved up quickly to cut down the thinking time of the attackers. Tackling technique is text-book and effectively strong.
Scrum coach Mario Ledesma has been able to teach old dogs new tricks. He has imparted knowledge to the forwards that there is more to scrummaging than just good technique.
Against England we saw how the Wallabies were wise to what England was trying to do and negated their effectiveness with counter-tactics of their own. The scrum is ‘hip’ again.
However, I’m not yet sold that the Wallabies are the ‘real deal’. There have been too many false dawns for me to get ahead of myself.
The Wallabies’ rate of improvement is astonishing. But is the winning post approaching too quickly?
As a patriot I hope Australia can go all the way.
But as a citizen of the world, and a lover of rugby, if the All Blacks and Wallabies meet in the final, I would like to see the All Blacks triumph, assuming each plays to their best.
The ABs have a clutch of the greatest players to play the game, including arguably the greatest rugby player of all-time in Richie McCaw.
They also deserve to be rewarded for their standard of high consistency year-in, year-out. No country exemplifies rugby better than New Zealand.
If there’s any justice in the world, the All Blacks will be deserving word champions and the Wallabies will be honourable runners-up.
But of course, as we well know, fate tends not to operate on checks and balances. To the winner go the spoils.
Nevertheless, the Wallabies journey of 2015 has been truly remarkable to witness.