Last gasp … Wallabies players celebrate with relief after overcoming a spirited Wales in Melbourne on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
SLOWLY but surely the Wallabies are winning the tight ones. As their coach realises, it is only when they do that regularly can they properly push for the No.1 international rugby ranking.
In recent times, the Wallabies were guilty of falling away late in Tests, but the past two internationals against the Wales have shown, like the great Australian Test line-ups in the 1980s and '90s, they have the will to play to the last second and finish on top - even if by the tiniest of margins. When they consistently do that, the belief that they are impenetrable just grows. From an All Blacks background, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans knows that intimately.
After a spectacular night where Deans virtually assured himself that he will be the Australian coach until at least the end of next season, he applauded the players for starting to believe in themselves.
Wallabies snatch victory over Wales
New Zealand-born Mike Harris kicked a penalty goal after the siren to seal a two-point win over Wales. Photo: Getty Images
It also indicated that for a change luck is starting to go Deans's way. That was certainly the case during the Rod Macqueen era, where he often appeared blessed by the good-fortune fairy.
Now Deans can talk about how his team just got ahead of South Africa 11-9 in last year's World Cup quarter-final, a few months earlier succeeding 14-9 in Durban, beating the All Blacks 26-24 in Hong Kong in 2010 and also the Springboks 41-39 in Bloemfontein that year.
Deans yesterday said winning the tight Tests consistently ''was very important for the players''.
''The group was composed at the critical time. They knew the importance of winning possession. They got the ball and produced enough pressure to draw a stress response from the Welsh.''
Deans was referring to Wales five-eighth Rhys Priestland kicking the ball away in the final minute giving the Wallabies unexpected possession. Even Wales captain Sam Warburton couldn't believe it, saying ''the plan was to keep the ball''. One Welsh player screamed: ''Oh no!''
Deans explained that Priestland's response was understandable.
''He kicked for a reason. He was feeling pressure,'' he said.
''Also, there is no doubt those sort of wins produce a deposit and you get your belief back. The All Blacks are living proof of that. Look at their Test against Ireland on Saturday night. They did exactly that.
''We've had some good results under the pump, such as our win on the highveld in Bloemfontein when we came from behind. But if you go back a number of years, we were losing fixtures probably more through conditioning. From the 60-minute mark on we have now started to pick up. But this year's Rugby Championship will be the litmus test.''
Wallabies centre Rob Horne also said: ''That was huge. It's all about belief … to actually feel like you can still hold onto the ball and make something happen … ''