An unfortunate little home truth: the current generation of Wallabies get thrashed when the All Blacks and Springboks treat them with respect and thus turn up with the intensity they normally reserve for each other.
The corollary is that when the ABs and Boks think, however subconsciously, that they’re only playing the Wallabies, we can sometimes beat them.
In either case, the Wallabies haven’t been masters of their own destiny since the John Eales era. When the ABs and Boks viscerally believe they really have to beat us, they do. Yes, we have the Mandela Cup, the 2008 record shows Australia 2 South Africa 1, but Saturday showed where the real power remains.
For all the well-meaning boosterism of the rugby press, the reality is that Australia is a full rung down the ladder from the two rugby superpowers, glaringly lacking their depth of talent. A team that has to toss a relatively inexperienced league convert into inside centre and pick a notoriously inaccurate lineout thrower in the run-on side, that lacks a No 8 with consistent presence … well, you can’t expect too much.
The thought occurred while watching the two opening ABs v Boks games this year that they clearly save their best for each other. The intensity and physical commitment of those matches in New Zealand was nearly frightening. No, at times it was frightening.
The teams and their fans acknowledge as much. Never mind the World Cup, the ultimate test in rugby remains defeating the ABs or Boks twice on their own turf. The superpowers know it, breathe it and rise to that challenge for what it is.
Australia plays and enjoys its rugby. Normal transmission has been resumed — we learn to appreciate our wins and move on from our losses. With a canny coach we can sometimes overcome our lack of depth for while.
And there’s always next week, or rather, Saturday week when the Wallabies play the All Blacks in Brisbane for the Tri-Nations title. Who knows, they might think they’re only playing the Wallabies and we could win. Here’s hoping.