Wallabies' fragile confidence shot full of holes out in the wild west
AFTER the despair of Sydney, Auckland and another doomed Bledisloe Cup campaign, the Wallabies headed to the other side of the country in search of pain relief. No such luck.
Instead, during their week in Perth, the Wallabies have discovered the gods remain crazy. They have encountered dreadful weather, forced to endure hail storms and gale-force winds at training, had to manipulate their squad to overcome another crippling injury to a key player, and discovered that in the west hardly anyone gives a damn about them.
Perth is gripped in AFL finals mania, with Fremantle and West Coast involved in this weekend's play-offs. And it appears the only locals who have any interest in tonight's Test at Subiaco are from the other side.
Linchpin … reserve halfback Nick Phipps clears the ball at Peterson's Stadium yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
On Wednesday night, the Wallabies were involved in a meet-and-greet function with the Springboks in the middle of town. About 800 turned up, with around 600 wearing Springboks jerseys. To add to the gloom, it pelted down, with numerous Wallabies getting drenched while having their photographs taken with the few Australian supporters who had braved the elements.
So at a time when the Wallabies desperately need hugs and kisses, they have been reminded of the fact they are not even really playing at a friendly home ground tonight. Due to the large South African expat community in Perth, the Springboks know this is not a place where the Wallabies feel comfortable or have anywhere near the full support of the crowd.
It is also a ground that numerous Wallabies are not used to playing at, providing the Springboks with the belief that they can bring more anguish to a hesitant Wallaby outfit.
The Wallabies have been talking up about how they have learnt from their errors in Sydney and Auckland, but it is still far from a buoyant group. The shoulders are still slumped.
To not score a point in Auckland gutted them, and it wasn't helped by the Wallabies team management stressing that the All Blacks were so good. This had the effect of reinforcing, in the minds of the Wallabies, that they were actually second rate. That's never a good sign.
The starting XV also remains fragmented, while the Australian pack is missing at least four important members. There are enormous question marks surrounding the firepower of the forwards, which is relying on two players well into their 30s, second-rower Nathan Sharpe and No.8 Radike Samo, to provide backbone and direction.
And while the Wallabies back line has potential, it will count for nothing if their forward contingent continues to lack impact. Being without David Pocock and Stephen Moore does not help, while James Horwill and Wycliff Palu being sidelined has restricted their number of effective ball carriers.
With that, the opportunities the Wallabies attack have had to try something lately has been limited. That's why captain Will Genia yesterday made the plea that the team just wanted to play some football.
Adding to the uncertainty is the flighty nature of their two game-breakers - five-eighth Quade Cooper and fullback Kurtley Beale. After his spluttering performance last time out against the All Blacks, Cooper is on his last chance.
Privately there are concerns within the Wallabies camp over whether Cooper is in ''the right head space'', particularly with him again indicating his interest in playing rugby league. Reading Cooper's Twitter ramblings this week has been an eye opener, or eye closer.
And all week the Wallabies management have been attempting ''to pump Beale's tyres up'', wanting him to again feel wanted after his diabolical Sydney Test performance. The pair need to be managed carefully, and the Wallabies staff would struggle to admit at the moment that they are on top of this issue.
Not helping either is that the Springboks are also agitated. After their two Tests against Argentina, South Africa's new coach Heyneke Meyer has been criticised for the team being too conservative, too forward driven, lacking imagination. Even some within the Springboks management are worried Meyer has, after just a few Tests, become too rigid and old fashioned in his approach.
That's possibly why Meyer has opted for something left field, by placing his exceptional halfback Francois Hougaard on the wing in the hope it can provide some froth to a stilted attack.
Those who know him say that Meyer is edgy, but not as much as his opposite, Robbie Deans.
It is such a crucial night for the Wallabies coach. If the Wallabies again falter, several members of the Australian Rugby Union board will agitate even harder for change. Deans does not have the full support of the ARU board and to win back those who are wavering, not just a win, but a convincing victory is required. That's no easy assignment.