There’s one ingredient that should be a given when playing for your country.
The fans demand it. Teammates call for it. The coach expects it and works to bring it to a crescendo.
If many of us knew a long time ago we lacked the skill, size and speed – and many other attributes needed to cut it as a Wallaby – we also believed that we would bring enthusiasm in bucket loads if ever given the chance to pull on the green and gold jersey.
We’d be bursting with pride, passion, energy. Right?
So it came as a shock when in the post-mortem of Australia’s Rugby Championship loss to Argentina last Saturday night, coach Michael Cheika and halfback Will Genia so bluntly questioned the Wallabies’ attitude?
“We lacked enthusiasm at the key moments often and that let us down,” Cheika said.
“They out-enthused us,” said Genia.
It was a frank assessment of the Wallabies’ stinging defeat – their first loss to Argentina on home soil since 1983.
Their deficit of exuberance was noted even earlier by the fan who confronted Lukhan Tui in the grandstands not long after the fulltime siren. His zest was easily apparent; his discretion not so evident.
How could the Wallabies, who have won two of their last nine Tests, be out-enthused?
It’s a stunning admission given their woeful record over the last year and a bit. How can they not get up for it?
The Pumas had knocked off the Springboks a few weeks earlier and pushed the All Blacks for 70 minutes. A spluttering side low on confidence and currently low on public appeal, the Wallabies surely couldn’t have been expecting an easy night.
Girt by support staff and naturally driven as elite professional athletes, they shouldn’t have needed any extra motivation to rev themselves up.
A dismal Gold Coast crowd of 16,000 isn’t an excuse. There’s a World Cup a year away.
Australian rugby’s overall health is so heavily dependent on Wallabies success.
The Wallabies’ shortage of spirit came against a side, Argentina, whose fervour can rarely be faulted. They’re the ones whose biggest, beefiest bruisers often shed a tear during the national anthem. Cheika himself is well known for showing a wide range of emotions in the coaches’ box.
But it was a strange call from Cheika and Genia to doubt the Wallabies’ level of enthusiasm.
It makes any solution to the Wallabies’ woes feel a bit simplistic if it’s only about attitude. Australia’s issues run a lot deeper. Failure to make a simple left to right pass to score the match-winning try was an obvious blemish.
Infuriating errors such as wobbly lineout throws continue to hurt.
The inability to control the ball and consistently create gaps in the defensive line is perplexing. There’s hardly a glut of ingenuity and enterprise in attack.
But it also reflects poorly on Cheika. He knows professional sport is a results-based business.
When all is said and done, as head coach, he’s the one that takes responsibility for every facet of their preparation and performance; from strategy to mindset.
If he’s not hitting the right buttons to get his players enthused at the levels he demands, then it falls on him.
Cheika hasn’t been scared to shame his side in the past. Last year, he had a crack at the squad’s fitness levels entering Wallabies camp.
It at least means that over the next two Tests against South Africa in Port Elizabeth and Argentina in Salta – both of which are critical to Cheika’s job security – the Wallabies should be noticeably raring to go as they try to arrest their slide.
The Wallabies have effectively been accused of lacking pride by their coach and a teammate.
Boks coach Rassie Erasmus was very honest and open about the significance of their clash with the All Blacks last weekend following a similarly dispiriting loss to the Argies. It was a stark attempt to extract every bit of fire out of his team. And it worked.
Have the Wallabies hit rock bottom? Are they chastened by Cheika’s words? He expects enthusiasm. Wallabies fans demand it. It’s one ingredient that should be a given.