One day, and it was a few years ago now, I was at Bonville Golf Resort just south of Coffs Harbour where the Wallabies were hosting their annual golf day with local business folk.
At the post-round function a journo mate and I were at a table with a claque of Wallabies, a couple of whom were a few beers deep and chatting unselfconsciously in that bitchy, in-club sort of way about a team-mate who had elected not to tour the UK on the end-of-season “Spring” internationals.
“He’s going to look after his knee,” said one. “Get it right.”
“He could still play,” said the other. “He’s had the same thing all year.”
“Yeah, but he’s funny like that. He’s one of those ‘pride in performance’ sort of blokes.”
“Ha – who cares? You still get paid.”
Another Wallaby at the table sort of caught the eye of the pair who remembered that myself and said journo mate were at the table, soup spoons paused at mouths, bug-eyed and curious, a couple of snakes on the plane. And there followed uncomfortable silence.
And here we are.
Where are we? On the road to those same Spring tour internationals, sports fans, and nobody in Wallabies gold, one would suggest, would choose not to be on that plane.
And Wallabies fans, who’ve traditionally half-ignored the Tests given early AM kick-offs, are like Katrina Leskanich from Katrina and the Waves singing “I used to think maybe you loved me now baby I’m sure / And I just cant wait till the day when you knock on my door / Now every time I go for the mailbox, gotta hold myself down / Cos I just wait till you write me your coming around / I’m walking on sunshine.”
Trade “mailbox” for The Roar’s listing of the Spring tour kick-off times and you’ll find that this one begins in Japan (on Saturday 23 October and you’ll glean some idea of the success of Wallabies’ season 2021.
Because, as they say, how good? A 2-1 series win over France and four Test wins on the trot including two over World Champion and, as of Saturday night, world number one South Africa. And aside from the traditional bollocking by New Zealand (which it’s like we just sort of cop and move on), there’s been plenty to like.
I liked Matt Philip, five minutes from the end of the second Argentina Test match that Australia was definitely going to win, exhorting his scrum-mates to “Come on!” He was a big body in the middle, throwing it about, pressure game on point.
I liked Len Ikitau, whether he was going to the line, feeding supports or grass-cutting runners. Looks a beaut, young Lenny.
I liked the use of Tate McDermott and Nic White in tandem. Different players, different men. I don’t mind who wants to be Aaron Smith and who TJ Perenara, just keep on truckin’, cobbers.
I liked the bustling, all-action backrow – Rob Valetini, Lachie Swinton, Pete Samu – big bodies, high pressure, hard charges. Simple, brutal. Top stuff.
I liked Noah Lolesio and Hunter Paisami. Yes, those intercept passes. But, sports fans, know this: under instruction they were being themselves. Expressing themselves and “playing” rugby. Best of all they were having a go. And if nothing else, the Kiwi Dave Rennie has tapped into one key part of our Aussie psyche: Have a go, you mug!
I liked that Rennie picked pretty much whoever he liked. And back they came – Quade Cooper (Quade Cooper!), Sean McMahon, Samu Kerevi, Izack Rodda, Pete Samu – the so-called Giteau Law despatched like so much red tape. Top stuff, extraordinary times. They even brought back Greg Holmes (Greg Holmes!) who debuted for Queensland when Lolesio was five.
Most of all, though, I liked the following, the standouts for the green-and-gold, the men who represent, potentially, those half-dozen or so world class players that Bob Dwyer once opined every Rugby World Cup-winning nation needs.
Top of the list, Taniela Tupou. How about him. Ben Alexander played 72 Tests for Australia and says our man Tongan Thor is everything he wanted to be. Quick enough, agile, skilful, and a tremendous force at breakdown and scrum. And he can play big minutes.
From the middle to the outer rim and Andrew Kellaway debuted for Australia aged 25 after several years in the wilderness. Yet it’s been the making of him. He was a kid who bitched he wanted play fullback, now he’s a man who worked out he can play anywhere and enjoy it mightily. And he’s smokin’ it up.
Quade Cooper was everything you want in a No.10: Calm, skilful, a communicator, a distributor. Deft kicks. Slick ball work. Top options. And subtle. So subtle. Ball in hand, he’s shelved the pogo stick manoeuvres of a young Benji Marshall or Carlos Spencer for a more measured and yet perhaps more potent approach.
It’s not all about him in the No.10, it’s about the men around him. The team. If he stays fit – and stays over at Sonny Bill Williams’ place a bit more – who wouldn’t want 35-year-old Quade Cooper in the World Cup squad? Answer: All Blacks; Springboks; Poms.
Samu Kerevi came back from Japan better than when he left. The No.12 carved up in the middle. Low centre of gravity, a hip-bump like a fat little dodgem car, the big dogs of world rugby will need to double-team him with aggressive forwards to help out out-gunned backs. Absolute weapon. Maybe get him over for a stay at SBW’s place, too.
Marika Koroibete has almost re-invented wing play in that he does what he does, at high speed, all across the park. More incisive than Leigh Sales.
And of course, perhaps best to last, was the skipper: Michael Hooper, who like Serevi has perhaps returned a better player from his “sabbatical” in Japan.
Hooper was everywhere. And he was there at speed. And he ran and he ran and he ran. And he tackled. And worked in dark places. And he still, somehow, managed to talk with referees like the head prefect at Shore showing visitors through a dormitory.
And good luck to him. The man’s been world class a long time. And seems he may have some mates along for the ride.
And you wouldn’t miss it for quids.