Sally Pearson cleared her hurdles to meet the expectations of a nation stumped by a lack of success at the Olympic Games, and now the Wallabies are under pressure to reward a long-suffering rugby fraternity by regaining the Bledisloe Cup.
Australia's relative lack of golden moments during London 2012 has been mirrored by the Wallabies encounters with the All Blacks since 2003, though in contrast to their high-profile Olympians' tendency to talk themselves up before the event captain David Pocock has adopted a more restrained approach to the inaugural Rugby Championship opener in Sydney next Saturday.
The Zimbabwean-born flanker leads the Wallabies against the All Blacks for the first time at ANZ Stadium and the newness of the position showed when he was asked how the outcome will be any different this year when a three-test Bledisloe series dovetails with internationals against South Africa and Argentina.
Since the All Blacks won the symbol of trans-Tasman rugby superiority at Eden Park nine years ago, George Gregan, Nathan Sharpe, George Smith, Stirling Mortlock, Rocky Elsom and James Horwill have all been confronted with that conundrum, Pocock joined them yesterday and appeared perplexed by the question.
"Mmmm. It's a good question," he hesitated, as if startled by a referee's ruling.
"Aw, I think the last four or so contests have been close, it's been about which team has been more accurate. Playing against New Zealand, they're not the sort of team you can give a start to and then come over the top of them at the end.
"You really have to start well, that's going to be a big focus for both teams."
Recent history suggests that was an accurate assessment by Australia's premier openside - when the Wallabies won the final Tri-Nations title last August they had built a 20-3 halftime lead in Brisbane; two months later in the World Cup semifinal a fifth minute try to Ma'a Nonu set the tone for a dominant All Black performance.
Pocock was more assured when quizzed on the relevance on his match-up with Richie McCaw, it will be the 13th time the pair contest the breakdown at test level since he made his debut in 2008.
"It's always built up as a big clash between the sevens but I think it's about each team being effective at the breakdown and not allowing the opposition to have access to that area," the 44-cap veteran said, deflecting attention from his one-on-one battle.
"It's really a team focus and I guess whichever loose forward trio manages to influence the breakdown the most then you judge it (the winner) on that."
The Wallabies management are not entirely sure where McCaw will fit into the All Blacks loose trio as the world champions face their first significant test without Jerome Kaino in their loose forward combination.
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans assumed McCaw would start in his customary No.7 jersey but were prepared for the possibility of his starting on the blindside flank to complement Kieran Read and promising rookie Sam Cane.
"Cane has been impressive all season in Super rugby and against the Irish he made the most of it," Pocock said.
"It's a good headache to have as a selector. Australia and New Zealand both have a number of sevens we can use however we want to."
Pocock denied Kaino's absence would tilt the ruck war in the Wallabies' favour saying the All Blacks would field a competitive back row regardless.
Deans, meanwhile, emphasised the Wallabies' focus on the breakdown by introducing uncapped Queenslander Liam Gill as additional back-up to Pocock - a change of philosophy after the lack of a specialist openside influenced Australia's crucial loss to Ireland in World Cup pool play when their star was injured.
The 20-year-old joins Michael Hooper, his predecessor as Australia's under-20s captain, in a Wallabies squad for the first time.
Hooper made his debut in the June internationals and now Gill is poised to step up during the Rugby Championship.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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