Burrowing through ... Adam Ashley-Cooper against the Welsh in Brisbane last week. Photo: Getty Images
AT THE end of the first Test win against Wales in Brisbane, the eight Waratahs in the team got together and started laughing. There was so much relief. After six successive losses with the Waratahs, followed by a midweek drubbing by Scotland, the NSW contingent were starting to wonder if they would ever again experience victory.
The persistent losses had sapped their self-confidence, which is why they were so delighted they were again surrounded by winning Wallabies. With the Test in Melbourne only two days away, the same eight - Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Berrick Barnes, Wycliff Palu, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson and Dave Dennis - want more of the same.
As Test fullback Ashley-Cooper said yesterday: ''We play the game to win.''
''That's what it's all about and obviously our group at the Waratahs have struggled for a win the last few weeks. We have now come into a new environment, and to get a win up against a decent side was special. It is now important we build on that.
''There is always a mixed bag of emotions when you win,'' Ashley-Cooper said. ''There's the excitement, adrenalin and also relief. Winning is a great feeling.''
The winning sensation was even more of a buzz for Palu, whose recent international career has been stalled because of persistent injuries. After a steady recuperation from several ailments that limited him to only two Tests in 2010-11, the Test No.8 believes he is back to full fitness and can make the required impact. ''I haven't had a win in a while, so what happened in Brisbane was terrific,'' Palu said yesterday. ''The NSW guys in the team had a bit of a laugh about it at the end of the game. It was good to have a quiet beer after the win, rather than a Coke or something. We were so happy to be in the winner's circle again, and it's important to get that feeling back. It just gives you so much confidence.''
One person delighted the Waratahs have rediscovered the secrets of winning is their Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. ''It was great to see Wycliff back at this level because he's had a frustrating couple of years. And Adam always plays well at Test level,'' Deans said.
''The way he slotted in at No.15 where he has hardly played this year was remarkable. He's a bloke who gives a lot of confidence to those around him as well. There's nothing better for a defensive line than to have that certainty behind them. They're confident because he's organised, provides a lot of voice and he owns the ball in the air.
''And I've got no doubt Adam will be even more more challenged this week. The Welsh will be wanting to put more ball in the air.''
While Ashley-Cooper will be targeted, Wallabies coaching co-ordinator Tony McGahan said yesterday his halves pairing of Will Genia and Berrick Barnes would also be marked men in the second Test.
''Wales will really want to shut down our key playmakers at No.9 and 10. You will see a real blitz in the Welsh defence,'' McGahan said.
''They'll be coming off the line exceptionally hard around the ruck, and will try to control our No.9 and No.10. They will make sure their time on the ball and ability to get themselves into the game is shortened.''
McGahan, who joined the Wallabies coaching group from Munster several weeks ago, is also anticipating Wales to vary their game.
''In the second half of the first Test, Wales changed their tactics. They kicked a lot. They certainly enjoyed the fractured part of the game, where they got themselves back in. From restarts, they got two or three turnovers, and started putting the ball in the air, which is a strong part of their game,'' McGahan said.
''That's where they made inroads. From set-piece and a structured environment, we looked solid, but as soon as it broke up, with their speed on the edges, it gave them a foothold in the game.''