After a season of discontent, injured Wallabies captains James Horwill and David Pocock talk to Georgina Robinson.
Georgina Robinson: It's been a tough couple of months for Australian rugby - its players and its fans. Losses, injuries, controversy and now you've slipped to No 3 in the world. Tell us why there is still hope.
James Horwill: Well, I think every cloud has a silver lining, you have to make sure you're positive about things, and I think certainly there's some guys that have been playing who probably wouldn't have had the opportunity if everything had gone according to plan. I think a guy that's a good example of that is a guy like Michael Hooper - obviously he's been outstanding, and if Poey [Pocock] had have been fit you probably wouldn't have imagined at the start of the year that he would have got as much football as he has. [Sitaleki Timani]'s another one [and] Dom Shipperley.
David Pocock: It has certainly given players an opportunity and this should add to the depth of the Wallabies in years to come. It has been a tough year. We had injuries in the June Tests but managed to win the series against a spirited Welsh team, but to beat the All Blacks and Springboks you have to be on top of your game and we have fallen short against them. I don't think it is due to a lack of effort, we have just not been good enough on the night and it is a steep learning curve at that level.
GR: Can you get back to No 2 in the world?
JH: Definitely. There is no doubt we can. I think we all need to keep performing, keep focusing on things we do well. [The Springboks Test] wasn't a great outing and we didn't play as well as we could have and it's always disappointing when that happens because you always want to play to the best of your ability and the guys are probably the first to admit that we didn't do that. But we still have guys in the team who have great ability and we've got guys who are hopefully coming back soon to bolster the ranks.
DP: I think the short answer is yes, but I'd preface that by saying that it will take a lot of hard work and some very good player management during the Super Rugby season to ensure we have as many players available for selection as possible come the June Tests and then later in the year. New Zealand are clearly the best in the world at the moment and that has been evident in this tournament - that is the challenge - to close the gap and become more deserving.
GR: Is the No.1 ranking a pipe dream?
JH: I don't think it's a pipe dream at all. We know that we as a country, on our day, have the ability to beat any country in the world. Being No.1 in the world is a by-product of performing well all the time in every outing that you have.
GR: Which means it's a by-product also of beating the All Blacks. Some people say there's daylight between the teams. Is that true?
JH: We get an opportunity in [one] week's time to prove that we can match it with them and I'm confident we can. While they've been playing excellent rugby with an exceptional amount of depth in all areas of their game, they're not unbeatable. I talked about consistency, even when they have an off day they are still able to grind out a win. They are an amazing side but I still don't think they're that far ahead of everyone else. It's not a bridge too far, so to speak.
GR: David, it seems a long while since the Wallabies beat the All Blacks. If you can cast your mind back to those victories, what did it take to beat them then and what will it take to do it again?
DP: Accuracy. Taking our opportunities, and a good team performance. We are certainly capable of it but playing against a team like New Zealand you have to take your opportunities. They haven't scored many tries against us in the close games but we have not capitalised on opportunities that we've created. And that's crucial.
GR: James, on Twitter a little while ago you posted a video clip for a song called Don't You Worry Child under the ''Team Rehab'' hashtag. I'm going to read you a few lines of that song: I was a king I had a golden throne / Those days are gone, now the memories are on the wall ... Should we be worried about you, James?
JH: No, I don't think so. I'm just a bit of a Swedish House Mafia fan, it was their last ever song and I just loved the video clip. I like my house/dance music and it's a song that goes on quite loud in the gym.
GR: So journalists should lay off the psychoanalysis?
JH: Yeah, I think we're looking too much into the words there. I just like the beat.
GR: David, do you have an anthem or anything helping you get through the post-op/rehabilitation period? I won't go ferreting for lyrics.
DP: [Hip hop artist] Lupe Fiasco has been blaring out the speakers for the three boxing sessions I've done with [Brumbies winger] Joe Tomane this week. It's been great. Boxing with Lupe and a whole heap of others - I'll have to start sharing a few of my Spotify playlists.
GR: Does it take a certain measure of faith to come back from serious injury?
JH: You need to make sure you don't leave anything to chance and you've got to have faith in the people around you and their expertise. The surgeons, the physios etc. But a lot of it does come down to your individual desire and commitment to it. It is not a nice place to be, it's boring and never fun, especially early on, when you think, 'How did I ever do that, that used to be me running around, running into people, and now I can hardly walk'. You have to have faith in your individual ability and then you have to set short-term goals to get you to the long-term goal.
DP: Yeah, that's an interesting way to put it but it probably does. By the time you get back to playing you've done so much work with the medical team and strength and conditioning coaches that you just have to trust the program and that you have done the hard work and are good to go. There are always a lot more nerves than usual that first game back but you wouldn't have it any other way. It's so exciting getting back to training and playing with the group. You really miss it.
GR: Has it been frustrating watching your friends struggle and the game go through a tough period, without being able to contribute in the way you usually do?
JH: It's extremely frustrating. Every time I've always wanted so badly for them to do well and it's never nice to see things not go their way or them not play as well as they want to. You do your bit and try to help them and so forth but when things don't go according to plan it's tough, feeling helpless.
DP: It is always frustrating not playing. As for the game going through a hard period, I think it's important we maintain some perspective. There are a lot of guys ... getting their first real taste of rugby at this level - that is so important for us as a group going forward. The learnings, both individually and as a team, over the past few months are crucial if we are to build as a team.
GR: Will Genia told me that since he's been injured he sometimes messages the assistant coaches a few tips at half-time, from the comfort of his couch at home - are you guys as hands-on?
JH: I text occasionally, but it's a bit difficult to do that. I try and stay in contact but sometimes you have to give them their own space. Will's been more involved than me unfortunately this season, I've missed much more. I often text the players though but you've got to give them their own space as well.
DP: No, that's not my go. I think it's important to support the team and stay in touch, but I haven't tried to add my say in things while I have been injured - they have enough going on without that.
GR: What's your game ritual been like at home - do you watch the matches live or record them, at home, with friends, etc?
JH: I watched the Springboks game live, certainly it's very frustrating being so far away and I really struggled to get back to sleep after that one. I was a bit riled up and a little bit frustrated with the way things were going. You never like watching the guys suffer. I also try and watch it on my own. My girlfriend is sometimes brave enough to watch it with me. But I'm not really one for watching it in a group, I get a bit vocal and start yelling stuff and get a bit frustrated.
DP: I watch them live. The game against Argentina on the [Gold Coast] was a couple of days after Emma and I moved to Canberra, so we didn't have a TV but figured most pubs would show it. Wrong - not when the Raiders are in the finals! We finally found a uni pub that had it on and watched quietly in the corner and then left straight after it finished. I get really nervous watching and stay very quiet. On a positive note, I have really enjoyed watching guys getting opportunities. I think Michael Hooper has been superb this tournament. He has had a huge work rate.
GR: You have both been mentioned as possibles on the end-of-year tour. What chance are you both in a percentage sense?
JH: I dunno, there's still things I need to do. It's hard to tell a percentage because I don't really know. As I keep ticking the boxes it might get easier to say that with confidence. I'm certainly running and starting to do more rugby specific stuff, which is important. I guess I'm confident if it keeps going the way it is then I should be OK.
DP: My injury is a bit different to James because it isn't muscular. I have got through a lot of work over the past month and a bit - it has been a bit of a mini pre-season, which is great. It's improving slowly but at this stage it's hard to put a definite time frame on it.
GR: If you both end up on tour, who will be captain?
JH: That's probably not for me to decide, it's a decision for the coaching staff. And you just concentrate on getting back. It's too early for me anyway to worry about that.
DP: That doesn't concern me at all. The priority is just to get on the trip and back to playing.
GR: What's something you wish fans and supporters understood about life in the Wallabies?
JH: I think the main thing is that every player goes out there giving his all for his country and there's never someone who goes out there and doesn't put everything they've got on that field. We all make mistakes and things don't always go our way but it's not through a lack of effort or commitment. I'm not saying everyone does but there are times people say [players] don't care about what they do or this and that. But knowing our group and knowing what it takes, playing for your country is a huge honour for everyone.
DP: For me, it's important that fans know how much we appreciate their support. Twenty-two players get to pull on the jersey but they represent so many more - and it wasn't long ago we were fans and shared that elation and disappointment watching at stadiums or on TV. Our time as players is short so we need to be doing everything we can to leave a legacy for the future players and living and playing in a way that brings pride to our fans and supporters.
- Sydney Morning Herald