Warrior Sharpe wary of Wales as Wallabies get ready for war
Going out at the top … Nathan Sharpe, the Wallabies' most capped second-rower, is pleased to be ending his career on his own terms. Photo: Getty Images
Nathan Sharpe doesn't make excuses. But as the undisputed veteran of the Wallabies, who is counting down on one hand the games he has left to play, the 34-year-old can put a few things in perspective.
The most capped second-rower in Australian history has never in his 102-Test career been asked to play two matches in four days.
Last Tuesday's weather in Newcastle was, he says, ''in the top three worst conditions I've played in anywhere in the world, let alone Australia''. And Wales, smarting from Saturday's loss, will be more dangerous than ever in the second Test in Melbourne this weekend.
''This is the best Welsh team I've ever played against,'' he says. ''We're expecting big things from them again this weekend, and they will have learnt a lot from Saturday, and we expect them to try to remedy that.
''The game will have a completely different focus and a completely different energy about it.''
Sharpe should know. Saturday's match was his 11th against Wales. He's collected more caps against one country than 11 of his teammates have in their entire careers.
The difference, according to Sharpe, between the Wallabies that were humiliated by Scotland and the Wallabies that humbled Six Nations champions Wales was better choices.
The weather was terrible, and the team had hardly had time to shake each others' hands early in the week, but a few days later it boiled down to a group that wanted to prove something, and aligned their decision-making accordingly.
''We took better options,'' Sharpe says. ''And obviously it was a good test for the resolve of the team to go through that and perform well after the loss, to back up and play Wales.''
It was especially satisfying to watch his Western Force teammate David Pocock handle his first two games as captain under extremely challenging circumstances, Sharpe says.
''His response was that [the loss] had occurred, and as pissed off as we were we knew we had a job to do four days later and we had to worry about that,'' he says. ''Dave was one of the first guys to pick up that mentality and go forward with it.''
Pocock has been widely praised for his role in the Wallabies' triumph in Brisbane. Sharpe, who was the breakaway's captain at the Force until this season, when Pocock took over, says there is no question his friend will succeed in the role.
''It's just time on your feet for him, he'll get better and better,'' he says. ''Dave's game is as good as ever, and he is certainly getting his head around the extra commitment and the broader thinking you need to be captain, [as well as] all about tempering emotional responses with objective reasoning.''
Sharpe, on the other hand, has nothing more than his team's supremacy over the Welsh to prove in the final two Tests of his career.
He admits to the odd thought about whether he was ready to let go of rugby, but says he is proud to be finishing playing on his own terms. ''I think those thoughts cross your mind all time, but I think, deep down and in the grand scheme, it's the right time for me to do it,'' Sharpe says.
''I've always been keen to be a strong contributor to whatever team I'm part of, and I don't want to be one of those guys that will be asked to leave. I'm more relaxed, more than anything, because it's not like I'm looking to play on or protect my position. I set my own standards and try to fulfil those. It's a bit empowering in a lot of ways.''