Bruised, bloodied and pilloried - now Wallabies' blood is up
Push and shove ... Wallabies forwards Nathan Sharpe and Stephen Moore train at a London school for the Test against England at Twickenham on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
LONDON: Haven't we been here before? With their backs to the wall, apparently just the way they like it, the Wallabies are preparing for a defining moment in their tumultuous recent history, fuelled by the their bruised and bloodied pride.
South Africa in the World Cup, Argentina and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, England on Saturday. The Wallabies have the defiant comeback routine down pat. Same-same, but different. This week, more than ever before, the criticism was personal.
''Deans has destroyed Australian rugby and I want him to go,'' declared former Wallaby David Campese. A poll on Fairfax's Rugby Heaven site received more than 12,000 votes, with 75 per cent of voters agreeing with him.
The former Crusaders coach, who has taken Australia to a Tri Nations championship, a World Cup semi-final and second in the world, was characteristically unflappable in London this week.
He is feeling the strain, but always has. In his own words there is pressure ''every week''.
''That's what living in this arena is,'' he said. ''It's not about me. It's about the team and helping them do what they do. That's where we're putting all our time and energy.''
The players, for their part, did not need their failures pointed out.
''I don't really read the papers but after a performance like [last] Saturday's you kind of feel it anyway,'' No.8 Wycliff Palu said.
''I think the most disappointing thing about last week was we didn't fire a shot. That's not the Wallabies side of two weeks ago against the All Blacks, and going into this weekend we've got to [stick to] our guns and if things don't go well we've got to keep playing instead of going into our shell.''
Deans has indicated he is letting the players off the leash. Although buffeted by the loss of centre Pat McCabe, the Wallabies backs are by no means short of firepower.
Digby Ioane, a genuine threat, is back from injury, Ben Tapuai and Adam Ashley-Cooper are back at their favourite positions and Kurtley Beale just needs to feel the supporting love.
''We've obviously got to be a lot more effective in our own attack, the use of running ball,'' Deans said. ''We've got to ask more; we can't be one-dimensional.''
If the forwards can match the English scrum, neutralise their kicking game and shut down attacking threats such as Chris Ashton, Charlie Sharples and Manu Tuilagi, Deans has told them to offload instead of taking the ball to ground. But that's a big if on the evidence produced against France last week.
''[Last week] we had a good prep and we probably didn't turn up on the night, and we didn't do anything on our terms,'' Palu said. ''We were forced to play a way we didn't want to play and weren't comfortable with.''
Senior squad member Stephen Moore, who will start off the bench as fresh legs for hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, said he understood the criticism and knew it was up to the Wallabies to redeem themselves on Saturday, and over the longer term.
''There's no doubt there'll be a lot of eyes on the guys this weekend and I personally do feel that,'' Moore said. ''I'm very proud to play for Australia and I know what it means and I want to make sure our performance on the weekend reflects what it is to be Australian and that our people back home are proud of watching that performance.''
After a week of being written off in the English press, if not by England, the team, an upset Wallabies win at Twickenham would prove critics wrong and probably save the coach - again. They won't be doing it for the fans, the media, or even the beloved gold jersey. They will be doing it for each other, including Deans.
''[He] is considered our mate, he's considered part of our team and we had a real focus on looking after each other,'' Ashley-Cooper said.
''Regardless of who you are we are a Wallabies team, we are the Wallabies, we're representing our country and we're representing each other. I don't think anyone in the team likes to play the game for themselves - they play it for each other and for the respect of each other.''