John Eales hopes the Wallabies will use Saturday’s draw with the All Blacks as a stepping stone to success.
The Lions’ next opponents stopped their trans-Tasman neighbours’ 16-match winning run as they put their injury crisis behind them in Brisbane.
And while the absence of star names such as James Horwill, David Pocock, Will Genia, James O’Connor and Quade Cooper has led to a frustrating year so far, former skipper Eales believes there are plenty of positives to take into next month’s tour of Europe.
“They should take heart from their performance and use it as a building block for growth,” Eales wrote in his column in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“They should also take heart from the players who now know that the seemingly widening gap between No1 and No2 in the world is not unbreachable but now somewhat more reachable.
“The hope is that an inexperienced team has just put a stake in the ground. Old hands like Nathan Sharpe and Tatafu Polota-Nau have delivered. But importantly, the new kids on the block like Michael Hooper, Ben Tapuai and Kane Douglas have signed on for a man’s job.”
Much had been made of the Wallabies’ need to restore some pride in the green and gold following an embarrassing 22-0 reverse to the Kiwis in Auckland the last time they met but Eales insists Saturday was about far more than that.
Finishing as gallant losers at the Suncorp Stadium wouldn’t have been enough: the Wallabies needed to focus on performance and putting points on the board rather than just battling hard before falling short.
“This Wallaby team, while not given much chance in the lead-up, was not outplayed,” added Eales.
“When you are outmanned, pride will sometimes direct you to look for victories within potential defeat and judge your performance on metrics like courage, commitment and involvement rather than the scoreboard. But that is a haven for losers.
“Wallaby pride, rather, was driven to focus on how they could beat their opposite man individually and collectively, which is what they largely did for about 55 per cent of the match.”
Eales isn’t getting carried away with the improvements, though, as he admits there is still a lot of work to be done before the Lions come calling.
The legendary second row captained his country to series victory against Britain and Ireland’s elite 11 years ago but he knows that unforced errors have to be eliminated if the class of 2013 are to repeat the feat next summer.
“The Wallabies shouldn’t get too excited at thwarting the All Blacks’ shot at the record (for consecutive Test match wins) for it is an ultimately unhappy man that only gets joy from an opponent’s angst.
“Before they can finally bridge the gap they must cut out their unforced errors. Great teams will force mistakes upon you, that’s to be expected, and the All Blacks are a great team. A big tackle, a missed lineout or poor scrum service will all happen when supreme pressure is applied.
“What’s not tolerable are the unforced errors; a needless sinbinning, a dropped high ball or a box kick straight into touch. A five-minute period encompassing most of that probably cost the Wallabies the win and almost cost them the match.”