Well then… the completion of the Rugby Championship for the year and the obligatory non-Rugby Championship games last week brings with it one very harsh reality for the southern hemisphere nations.
It has not been easy to be a Wallabies supporter recently but the 47-26 victory over the All Blacks on Saturday night goes a long way to easing that pain.
Not only was it Australia’s first Bledisloe Cup victory since 21 October 2017, it also provides hope for the coming World Cup.
There were numerous heroes that contributed to Australia’s victory – the players, the coaching staff, Scott Barrett and Jérome Garcès – but the selectors also deserve recognition for some bold selection choices that played a large role in the eventual win.
In the past, Australia’s selection policies have trended towards conservatism, but the revamped panel of Michael Cheika, Michael O’Connor and Scott Johnson were bold in the lead-up to Saturday’s Test match and were richly rewarded.
The selection of Nic White over Will Genia at scrum half could not have been an easy one. Genia has been a fixture at No.9 and a reliable performer over the years. However, the encouraging performances by White against South Africa meant that he was given the start.
And boy oh boy did he justify that decision. White’s performance against New Zealand has set his name in stone for the World Cup. His passing was incisive, and he mixed up his game with a number of probing runs.
However, White’s offensive skills with the ball were not a surprise, it was the additional skills in his arsenal that provide the most encouraging sign of things to come. He delivered a well-placed box kick in the 35th minute that was well claimed by Reece Hodge.
He also showed tenacity in defence and finished with a team-high nine tackles. Outside of an early poor decision to wait for the whistle and ignore the scoring Rieko Ioane, White was consistently excellent.
Bringing James O’Connor back into the fold has been another daring decision that paid dividends.
While O’Connor’s talent was never been in doubt, his career looked finished after a series of alcohol and drug indiscretions. Saturday night served as a reminder of what he could have been – and still can be – in the Wallabies jersey.
O’Connor doesn’t have top-end speed and is not an elite line-breaker, which is why it is clever to match him with someone who has those abilities in spades, Samu Kerevi.
Pairing Kerevi and O’Connor in the centres helps emphasise each of their strengths. For O’Connor, his decision-making and distribution contributed immensely to Australia’s strong offensive showing. His offload for Hodge’s try gives a mouth-watering sense of what O’Connor can still achieve.
The selection of Tolu Latu was also a shock but he rewarded the selectors’ faith with his best performance for the Wallabies. Latu excelled in the core skills for a hooker, as his line-out throws were accurate, and he was part of a strong performance by the Australian front row that beat their Kiwi counterparts.
What was especially impressive was his running. He averaged the equal most metres-per-carry out of the starting Australian forwards with Michael Hooper and was consistently able to advance across the gain line.
The bravery shown by the selectors in choosing White, O’Connor and Latu represents a refreshed attitude in the Wallabies set-up. The boldness of those picks was supported by an aggressive tactical display by the coaches that was enacted with skill and vigour by the players on the field.
The performance on Saturday goes a long way to shattering the All Blacks’ aura of invincibility. If Australia continue to operate in this daring manner, there is nothing to say they cannot triumph in Eden Park and claim Australia’s first Bledisloe Cup since 2002.