Why the Wallabies believe 2017 will be different

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The nervous optimism, the burgeoning hope, then the almighty grounding.

It was all just a year ago - Australia’s opening Bledisloe disaster, a 42-8 loss to New Zealand in Sydney, that in many ways began an unravelling of the likes never really seen in Australian rugby.

Close to a year on, Australian Super Rugby has slumped to a lower ebb on the field, and the question is beginning to be asked.

Why will this year be different?

Though guarantees are impossible, prop Sekope Kepu, who has played New Zealand 17 times for just two wins, says things couldn’t be more different from that time a year ago.

“On a personal level, 12 months ago, I feel I've come a long way as well but more so as a team, I think we're in a better state leading into this first game and just all round,” he said.

“The buzz around the team, how everyone's feeling physically, mentally, I think it's quite refreshing.”

Kepu said the debacle left one question hanging over players’ heads, that could probably only be crystallised in hindsight.

“I think looking back 12 months ago, (you ask) did we do everything we could?,” he said.

“Maybe we did the things that we could've (at the time) but definitely this year we've done things a little bit different and we've progressed and fixed a lot of those things that leading into the first game and everyone's in tip top nick.

“Now it's just about putting that out on the field and executing that.

“We're going to put ourselves out there and it's definitely going to be a massive challenge but we're really looking forward to it and it's - we're not only doing it for ourselves but moreso for our families and our fans is massive and we really want to go out there and give it everything really.”

The Wallabies have stepped away from the familiar Sydney city in the lead-up to this game, camped out in the western suburbs, first in Penrith and then Homebush, a far cry from the halls of inner-city Intercontinental Hotel, a stone’s throw from the Harbour Bridge.

“We're there all the time, we're always in the busy part of the cities,” Kepu said.

“To be out here and a little bit away from the distractions and everything else helps us focus a little bit more but it's been great, I've really enjoyed it.”

When it comes to baptisms of fire, that Sydney game was Allan Alaalatoa’s first Wallabies Test - a chance to debut in front of family and friends in his home town.

“It was probably one of the most nervous weeks I've had,” he said.

“With the culture here we have a lot of the experienced boys got around me and really helped me throughout that week but it was very intense but I've got to say it's got to be the most nervous I've been.”

Few could have predicted the way the final score ended up, and the storm that opened up mere hours before kick-off, but knowing he was having his first test of his skills on the world stage was enough for Alaalatoa.

“That's probably why I was most nervous, to go up against the world's best in your debut was huge for me and that's one thing the boys around me knew,” he said.

“They knew it was a huge occasion and to be able to get your debut on that game was probably even bigger than it should be, but you wouldn't ask for a better competition to have.

“I was fortunate enough to have that debut in Sydney where I grew up, in front of my family, my mum and dad.

“I was just really fortunate to be in that position so to maybe have that potential again this weekend is huge for me and I'm sure my family will all be out there excited.”

The Wallabies take on the All Blacks on Saturday night, kicking off at 8pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS, Network Ten and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.