Super success imbues Wallabies with belief
Super Rugby and test success this year have imbued the Wallabies with intensity, self-confidence and trust in their physical presence says former captain Stirling Mortlock.
But they will need all of this - plus more - to beat the All Blacks on Saturday.
"That's the reality," said Mortlock, who captained the Wallabies at the 2007 World Cup.
"[The All Blacks] are that good that even when you have that physicality and that presence, when you rip in at the breakdown and do have that momentum for large periods of time of the game, they usually find a way to still be in the game, if not leading."
The 80-test veteran was impressed by the Brumbies and Waratahs in their Super Rugby semifinal square-off, and especially with how the Waratahs came out victors and went on to beat the Crusaders in Sydney to win the title.
"Both of those teams [Brumbies and Waratahs] have made inroads in their physicality in their set-piece, which historically has been a bit of a concern for the Australian team," Mortlock said.
"But I think [the Waratahs'] physicality and confidence and their defensive pattern was the best out of an Australian provincial team I have seen for quite some time.
"It was the first time ... in a long time I have seen an Australian team matching it physically, dominating physically, the opposition."
Mortlock hoped that dominance would transfer into the Wallabies game.
But he believed that against the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, where the Waratahs won their Super Rugby crown, this alone would not be enough.
Of the 16 tests he played against the All Blacks, Mortlock, who was also in the Wallabies' last Bledisloe Cup-winning team, in 2002, was in the losing side 12 times.
But of the four wins against the All Blacks, three were at Homebush - including a 2003 test in which he scored an intercept try that helped the Wallabies beat the All Blacks 22-10 in the World Cup semifinal.
Based on the Wallabies' progress since Ewen McKenzie became coach a year ago, including a 3-0 test series win over France in June, Mortlock believed the Wallabies could beat the All Blacks for the first time since August 2011, and for the first time in Sydney since July 2008.
Mortlock, for all his respect for the All Blacks, even believed the Wallabies could win the Bledisloe Cup.
The 37-year-old has not forgotten his own satisfaction in lifting the trophy in 2002.
"I didn't think I wouldn't get a chance to grab hold of it again," he said.
"But I'm pretty damn excited that this year is hopefully the year we get it back."
Mortlock said the impact of a packed crowd at ANZ Stadium containing mostly Wallabies supporters should not be underestimated, as he said the Super Rugby final showed.
"Watching the Crusaders lineout struggle to get their calls in is a great indicator the crowd is engrossed in the game, contributing to the cauldron [atmosphere]," he said.
"When you are playing before a home crowd when they are that into the game, it's a massive boost. That is what it should be. We are talking test rugby . . . Bledisloe Cup. It doesn't get much bigger than that."
However, he reminded himself that no matter how well placed the Wallabies might be in the game, the All Blacks would remain a threat until the final whistle.
"The All Blacks are going to take all of the momentum, all of the physicality, you can provide," Mortlock said.
"Even if you are dominating them, they are still going to take that and give it back. Even then it's still going to be a very tight arm wrestle."
Sydney Morning Herald