Five-word mantra that could make Wallabies a World Cup force

International
by Emma Greenwood

"On and off the field." It's the five-word Wallaby mantra that has Australia convinced it can be a World Cup force in Japan from next month.

From coach Michael Cheika to captain Michael Hooper, vice-captain Samu Kerevi and every player that stands in front of a reporter with a microphone, the oft-repeated phrase gives some insight into the work the Wallabies are doing to ensure they are at their best for rugby's biggest competition.

There's little doubt the Wallabies have made gains since last year, with their win over the All Blacks in Perth earlier this month a highlight.

But sharing ideas or breaking bread together, could prove as important for the Wallabies of 2019 as any session in the gym or on the training field.

"I think there's been massive growth, not just on the field but off the field as well," Kerevi said little more than an hour after the 36-0 loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park.

"It comes back to what we're believing and doing.

"Just ticking each box and just believing in the guy next to us and what the staff are doing on and off the field -  recovery, time spent together - we're just building towards something that is bigger than us coming up, which is the World Cup.

"We've all got our eyes on that and every nation will be doing the little things to get that stuff right."

Samu Kerevi says the team is learning there's more to life than just footy and growing as men off the field. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

Resilience is one thing the team has had to build over the past year.

It was more a necessity than a choice but the off-field dramas that have surrounded the Wallabies in the past 12 months could prove their making.

"There has been a lot happen off the field. A lot," Cheika said.

"A lot out there to test our resolve, not necessarily from us, but we get asked all the questions or the microscope comes on us.

 

"Whether that’s part of the union or outside of the game or wherever it is. That has tested us, and things at the back half of last year as well.

"And we have been really able to really have done well and be in a very good place to be, to play footy and prepare for footy."

Kerevi called it a "connection" within the team.

"We talk a lot about connection on the field but just off the field hanging out together in a more relaxed kind of way," he said.

"Not to be always focused on footy but just the little things."

It may sound like new-age mumbo jumbo. But the Wallabies don't have to look to far to see how successful a close-knit team can be.

The Junior Wallabies headed into the World Rugby U20 championships in Argentina earlier this year ranked outsiders, considered to be without the big-name players that had been part of more recent Australian teams.

But a plan to prioritise the World Cup over other forms of football, such as Super Rugby, paid off as Jason Gilmore's team made the final and went within a point of becoming the first Australian side to lift the U20 trophy.

Queensland backrowers, Harry Wilson and Junior Wallabies captain Fraser McReight pointed to a training camp in the Snowy Mountains sat around the campfire "cooking steaks and yarning" as the moment their belief they could win the world championships was sealed.

Junior Wallabies. Photo: Getty Images

Cheika, who was under massive pressure at the end of last year to hold his job as coach, said he had enjoyed this year.

And he's trying to get his players to do the same.

"That camaraderie, I suppose, helps with being a bit more resilient," he said.

"That’s already the attitude, we have been speaking and they’re already talking about what we’re going to do when we get back together later on this week.

"They’ve trained hard and been solid together and that’s only going to continue going into the World Cup."

Michael Cheika is likely to finish up as Wallabies coach after the World Cup. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart Walmsley

But there's no danger the Wallabies will head to Japan over-confident.

"Even with a victory (at Eden Park) there would be no danger of that," Cheika said.

"I've really been pleased with the improvement from last year - you see a difference in the team, a difference in the guys off the field as well, the camaraderie."