"We know Italy is a very proud and passionate nation and a bloody hard team to beat" ... Nathan Sharpe, pictured in blue headgear. Photo: Getty Images
FLORENCE: The Wallabies will turn teetering faith in their ability to back up one good performance with another into motivation against Italy this weekend, Nathan Sharpe says.
As the search continues in the Wallabies camp for the key to long-term consistency at Test level, the veteran Australian captain indicated he was prepared to use good old-fashioned reverse psychology to prevent another ''France moment''.
''That's the reality of the situation for us, we know Italy is a very proud and passionate nation and a bloody hard team to beat,'' Sharpe said. ''But at the same time we realise there's expectation for us to go backwards and that's good for us to work with. The way we've come here, the guys are stuck into their work already.''
It worked against Argentina in Rosario last month and again two weeks later in Brisbane, when the Wallabies drew with an All Blacks side that had humiliated them twice earlier this year. Most recently, it worked at Twickenham against England, after a dismal outing against France. Sharpe said it was crucial players understood what motivated them personally and as a group, but were also prepared to show true grit when the going got tough.
''I thought we started really well against France, the first 30 minutes felt like we were in a good space, but particularly in Test matches when that moment comes and you can choose to come again, that was the difference,'' he said.
''On Saturday against England we played well at times, they played well at times too, but when things got hard we pushed back, whereas I think against France we probably weren't in the head space to do that.
''That's a reality of Test football, we've got a lot of young guys in this group and each week there's going to be times when things do get hard, but that's got to be when you push back at it.''
Sharpe said he was delighted by the Wallabies' show of character against England, where the Australian backs were able to move the ball around. ''First and foremost [there were] great conditions, but our breakdown was very good and we knew that going at what they perceived to be their strength would take a ding out of them,'' he said.
''The forwards were outstanding at scrum time - there was probably one or two scrums that we missed the hit a little bit and paid for - but our set-piece laid that foundation. We made them a bit weary and then when that happens there's a bit more space out wide.''
Sharpe also revealed he had had no contact with controversial teammate Quade Cooper, who this week has been the subject of speculation he was leaving Australian rugby after a tumultuous three months.
The 114-Test veteran said he was focused on solving the Wallabies' on-field problems and let Cooper's close friends within the team deal with the Reds five-eighth.
''I guess I thought there's more pressing issues within the team at the moment that we needed to get on top of so it wasn't for me to go down that path,'' he said. ''There's other guys in the team that fulfil that role, they're good mates with him and catch up with him regularly. The way that they handled that has been good up until this stage.''
Sharpe also said he had taken seriously Cooper's accusations of a cultural problem within the Wallabies.
''We spoke to a few people and had a look at the environment, we made our own assumptions and assessments, then we responded the way that we thought we needed to,'' he said. ''After that we had a couple of pretty good performances against Argentina and then New Zealand, so it's a shame that Quade felt that way.
''Certainly you don't want any player ever feeling like that, but that's the way it rolled out.
''And that's the thing about the Wallaby jersey, it's going to go on no matter who's wearing it.''