Nathan Sharpe revealed he used to seek out an exuberant Ali Williams when the All Blacks assembled for the haka to lessen the emotional overload associated with a Bledisloe Cup clash as he urged the Wallabies' next generation not to be overawed in their first trans-Tasman test tonight.
The 111-test second rower and default option as captain faces the pre-match ritual for the 27th and final time at Suncorp Stadium and said focusing on rival lock Williams - who would position himself at the end of the front line and provocatively toss his head gear towards the opposition - helped him maintain his composure before kick-off.
Sharpe, 34, and the third skipper to guide the Wallabies through a season of angst, recrimination and injury, has only vague recollections of his test debut at Christchurch in 2002, a 12-6 loss that did not prevent Australia retaining the Bledisloe Cup.
A decade on he is the only member of the current squad to have grasped the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy though he was naturally optimistic as he hoped to improve his woeful personal record against the All Blacks to seven wins, 20 losses.
"The first one's very different to the last one, the way you look at it," Sharpe said of his exposure to "Ka Mate" or "Kapa O Pango".
"It's probably a bit more intimidating the first time. I can't remember the specifics of it, in recent years I've watched Ali Williams a lot. I've got a bit of enjoyment out of that," he laughed.
Byron Kelleher was probably the most enthusiastic opponent lined up over halfway at Lancaster Park when Sharpe made his Bledisloe Cup debut - tonight he will attempt to guide seven teammates through their initiation against the world champions and undisputed No.1 test nation.
The coaching staff and Sharpe will impress upon fullback and former New Zealand under-20s rep Mike Harris, wing Nick Cummins, centre Ben Tapuai, halfbacks Nick Phipps, Brett Sheehan, uncapped hooker James Hanson and rookie lock Kane Douglas to embrace the occasion, but not be overwhelmed by it.
Playing on emotion, said Sharpe, was both a blessing and a curse for the Wallabies who have beaten the All Blacks only three times in 17 tests since Robbie Deans took charge as the national side's first foreign coach in 2008.
"It fits the Australian psyche, when the back's to the wall guys like to show their character. That's a strength but also a weakness and something we've got to get away from," Sharpe said.
"It (emotion) doesn't allow you to build consistency in your performance. You can't rely on the emotional side of things to get you up each week," said Sharpe, who has postponed his retirement until the end of year tour wraps up in Cardiff.
By then ideally Sharpe will detect a more calculating and clinical edge to the Wallabies, traits associated with the teams inspired by another legendary lineout jumper, John Eales at the start of the new Millennium.
Deans, who assisted the All Blacks side that finally retrieved the Bledisloe in 2003 acknowledged the New Zealander's superior mental toughness had been a cornerstone of their dominance over the Wallabies, and a 16-test unbeaten sequence against all comers.
"That's what the Kiwis have mastered in many ways hence they're retained their No.1 status for some time," he lamented.
Deans and Sharpe spoke positively about defying the odds - the Wallabies are given a 13-1/2 point head start by one Australian bookmaker - though logic suggests Keven Mealamu's centurion status will dovetail with the All Blacks 100th test triumph over their neighbours.
"You can't dance round the fact they are an experienced team," said Sharpe, who has to compensate for the loss of front liners David Pocock, Will Genia, James Horwill, Stephen Moore, James O'Connor, Digby Ioane and Quade Cooper.
"The All Blacks understand how each other play and they've pretty savvy at manipulating things to help them go forward but at the same time we've got a bunch of guys that are coming in that are ready to go."
Deans, meanwhile, thought his fresh talent had the potential to provide "some elements of surprise" by curiously contradicting an earlier statement: "Nothing we bring will be of any surprise to them this weekend."
BY THE NUMBERS
All Blacks won 99 Wallabies won 41 Drawn 5
All Blacks 50 (50-21 at Sydney 2003) Wallabies 35 (35-39 at Sydney 2000)
Biggest winning margin
All Blacks 37 (43-6 at Wellington 1996) Wallabies 21 (28-7 at Sydney 1999)
Biggest winning run
All Blacks 10 (2008-2010) Wallabies 3 (1929, 1978-80, 1991-92, 1998, 2000-01)
Highest individual points scorers
All Blacks 270 - Daniel Carter; Wallabies 176 - Matt Burke
All Blacks 8 - Ian Kirkpatrick; Wallabies 8 - David Campese
Robbie Deans coaching record v All Blacks
Played 17 Won 3 Lost 14
ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.
WALLABIES: Mike Harris, Nick Cummins, Ben Tapuai, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Higginbotham, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Sitaleki Timani, James Slipper, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: James Hanson, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Drew Mitchell.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
- © Fairfax NZ News
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