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Carpooling home with my boss the other day together we both had had a few intense conversations putting out fires in both our personal and professional lives.
He also said something that sparked my attention “what we need is that composure. You know what I think of the golden era Wallabies guys like Nick Farr Jones, John Eales, Michael Lynagh, they had that composure the ability to stay the course no matter what happened.”
This is the first time my boss has ever talked about rugby with me and it struck me what a cultural landmark that era is in people’s minds.
It made me think about what made those players so mentally strong and how today’s team has developed such an opposite culture in almost every aspect.
Thinking back to that era the Wallabies weren’t perfect. Many times they were not the best team they and went into games that they probably shouldn’t have won on paper. Somehow found a way to win, they snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
Our lads today lose games that they really should win on paper and repeatedly snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
There’s something to say about that unflappability in the face of chaos and how essential it is in sport as in life. The ability to stay the course through rough seas to be calm, unwavering and disciplined as everything seems to be falling apart.
It’s an incredibly hard trait to develop and ingrain in people, perhaps it is partly innate or is it something you can create? Were those players born or made that way? Was it player personalities or Rod Macqueen’s coaching?
Ultimately, to me this is the Wallabies’ number one issue. They may not have the cattle compared to New Zealand but rarely ever has Australia had that.
While there is a skills gap the mental gap is so much larger and so much more overwhelming and concerning.
The one thing Australia always had in the golden era was that unflappable patience, composure and execution to the point where that era is synonymous culturally with these things.
The Wallabies today have incredible professional skills, athleticism and talent but that mental fragility is clear with a culture of hurriedly rushing things, pushing passes, ill-discipline, and losing focus at critical periods. It is never more evident when they face the All Blacks who have clearly maintained permanent headquarters in the minds of the Wallabies players as soon as they enter the field of battle.
So that takes me back to the initial question: how did the golden era Wallabies develop that composure? Was it simply that we were quicker to professionalise while other countries were slower to transition from the amateur era?
Was it merely a perfect storm of elements where the planets aligned to breed a great team that was merely a once off?
How on earth have things become so far removed? How do the Wallabies regain this culture?
How can the former generation instil that mindset back into the players because without it I do not see how the Wallabies will ever regain former glory.