WHEN the Wallabies won the 1991 World Cup they had at least five assured, experienced on-field leaders – Nick Farr-Jones, Rod McCall, Simon Poidevin, Michael Lynagh and David Campese.
Likewise in 1999 with John Eales, Tim Horan, George Gregan, David Wilson and Matt Burke, as did the 2011 All Blacks – Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn, Keven Mealamu, Conrad Smith and Kieran Read.
In times of trouble, and there have been many in the history of the Wallabies, a common cause for failure has been a shortage of proper leaders. As the Wallabies tonight begin a campaign to win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in a decade, they argue that at last they are getting the required number of qualified on-field marshals to match the All Blacks in the mental and physical battle.
That is important, especially as their last loss to the All Blacks – in the World Cup semi-final in Auckland – revolved around some of those in charge losing their bearings, either by not doing enough, or getting flustered and trying to do too much. In the end, poor direction saw the Wallabies end their World Cup campaign prematurely.
There may still be an element of inexperience among those in charge at the Wallabies, but some are starting to take the right steps to indicate they are leaders of substance. And the higher the number the better the chances of success tonight.
The promotion of David Pocock to the captaincy role for the June Test series after James Horwill was sidelined through injury was a great decision. Real leaders require a sense of aura, know all about a sense of occasion, and their chief asset is commonsense.
Pocock has all of that. Like his direct opponent, McCaw, Pocock knows how to keep a referee on edge, is prepared to stand his ground and keeps his cool when others are losing theirs. As anyone who watched his recent appearance on the ABC television show Q&A, where he put federal MP and former tennis player John Alexander in his place, Pocock is a man of principle and can be very persuasive. He fits perfectly into so many different and demanding environments.
And it appears Pocock’s off-field leadership is also a prime reason for the Wallabies looking surprisingly composed before the inaugural Rugby Championship. He has taken to the role with due diligence, putting in the hard work to ensure that everyone involved at squad level feels a part of it.
But as coach Robbie Deans stressed yesterday the leadership responsibilities cannot rest on just Pocock. It relies on many others in the team believing and then acting as true leaders. Deans yesterday put the pressure on Will Genia, Berrick Barnes and Kurtley Beale to also be on-field leaders.
”David can’t do it by himself,” Deans said. ”It’s like the breakdown. He can’t master that by himself. He needs support. We’ve been working hard in that area so he can thrive in games. It’s crucial with leadership. We need people around him prepared to stand up and offer solutions, because he’s busy with his head down quite often. We will rely on the directors of our game, like Will, Berrick and Kurtley to provide the initiatives.
”The rest of the group has to be responsible for the small stuff, which more often than not is the point of difference. It’s not the big, grand stuff or big ideas, it’s just people being accountable for their small part in it.”
Another crucial leader will be second-rower Nathan Sharpe. Of the Wallabies contingent, he is easily the most experienced in playing the All Blacks, and knows all about the agony of losing to them – having felt defeat in 18 of his 24 trans-Tasman Tests. But the Wallabies argue that at 34, Sharpe is playing the best football of his career, and is revelling in being a mentor.
But Sharpe knows the perfect mentoring role is not being an innocent bystander, but someone who has earned the right to carry the Bledisloe Cup under his arm.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.