South Africa say they won’t fall into the trap of getting involved with the “mind games” of British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland before the eagerly-awaited opening Test clash.
Wallabies fans have seen this before but James O’Connor is pleading with the doubters to keep the faith after a year of lost opportunity for Australia’s most maligned national sporting team.
After opening their campaign with a rousing draw with the All Blacks in Wellington, a result and performance that captivated even the country’s casual observers, the Wallabies finished with the Tri Nations wooden spoon.
Successive stalemates with Argentina, including Saturday night’s 16-16 deadlock in Sydney, overshadowed the high point of a rare Bledisloe Cup victory, in Brisbane.
The hollow draw at Bankwest Stadium left fans feeling a sense of deja vu and wondering if the world No.6-ranked Wallabies will ever rise again.
Even coach Dave Rennie admitted they have “a long way to go”.
“We’re going to get a lot better. There’s no lack of heart, no lack of effort but we’ve got to be way more clinical,” Rennie said of the Wallabies’ one-from-six winning record during his first year in charge after replacing Michael Cheika.
O’Connor, now one of the side’s senior statesmen having reformed from its one-time bad boy, can only see positives after a season in which Rennie blooded 10 newcomers to the Test cauldron.
“Results obviously haven’t gone our way but what I’ve seen from the young guys who have come through, their development has been huge,” the playmaker said.
“With this coaching stuff, there’s a lot of detail and once we get that, I really believe there’s going to be an epiphany moment and we’re going to really open it up.
“There’s guys that have really grown in this team and I think that young energy is going to start showing in a big Super Rugby season, and we can use this game as a springboard and we’ve just got to keep developing.
“We’re playing positive rugby – we’re having a crack, we’re having a go and I’m really looking forward to seeing how far this group can go.”
Like in the draw in Wellington and tied game in Newcastle, Reece Hodge had a last-gasp, long-range shot at penalty to win the game for Australia.
Again, he pushed his shot agonisingly to the right.
Had he nailed all three, the Wallabies would have won the Tri Nations and drawn the four-Test Bledisloe Cup series with the All Blacks.
It could have been an excellent season.
But ifs and would-have-beens don’t count.
Hodge, especially, will be beating himself up but both O’Connor and Rennie said he was by no means the blame for the Wallabies’ lack of silverware for a fifth straight year.
“The kick he had, and the other one (in Newcastle), it’s not an easy kick. It’s a 50-metre hit,” O’Connor said.
“Most guys can just reach that with their distance. If anyone’s going to hit that, it’s Hodgey. He’s got a huge boot and he’s been hitting them very nicely.
“He’s had a couple of nailbiter ones this year but I do believe we should have been up more on that scoreboard.
“We have to find a way to tick it over a bit more.
“We’re close to clicking, but we’re not quite there.”