Belief, legacy and enjoyment.
These are the three things former Wallabies Elton Flatley, Dan Herbert and Chris Latham spoke about when the trio addressed the current Australian team ahead of their Bledisloe Cup opener on Thursday night.
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The former Queensland trio, who featured for the Wallabies the last time they got their hands on the Bledisloe Cup in 2002, were asked by Dave Rennie to address the group on Sunday, where they joined them for dinner at their base at Sanctuary Cove.
“We just had a bit of a chat about our experiences when we played,” Flatley said.
“We obviously spoke about how special the Bledisloe Cup is to all of us.
“When you retire, the things you miss the most about playing are having that opportunity to create something special as a team.
“Obviously these guys have that opportunity on Thursday, and we encouraged them to really enjoy that opportunity and told them that all the Classic Wallabies are right behind the team.”
What characterised the Wallabies under John Eales and George Gregan was an unyielding sense of “belief” throughout the team.
That characteristic came to the fore over three consecutive years from 2000 to 2002.
In 2000 it was Eales’ after-the-buzzer penalty that gave the Wallabies victory in Wellington, a year later it was Toutai Kefu’s try in front of a packed Olympic Stadium that saw them prevail, before Matt Burke’s final kick of the game secured the Bledisloe Cup in 2002 after Mat Rogers scored a late try also in Sydney.
“That was the other message was that those games go right to the end, so just rip in for the 80 minutes,” Flatley said.
“It wasn’t a big wordsmith kind of thing, but it was a couple of messages and it’s really about opportunity and, I suppose, leaving a legacy and things like that as a team.”
James Slipper’s Wallabies have had countless opportunities over the past decade.
They have gone up in the series in 2015 and 2019, while they also snared draws in 2014 and 2020.
But their inability to seize the moment has often let the Wallabies down, with heartbreaking defeats in Brisbane under Ewen McKenzie in 2014 and in Dunedin in 2017 at the death.
Asked what the greatest aspect that defined his era was, Flatley said it was their “belief”.
“Probably belief that we were definitely good enough as a group to go out and execute, and we knew if we did that we’d have a good chance to win,” he said.
“We had a great group and a lot of were very tight mates and we had a great chemistry within the group, some good senior players.
“I think everyone was smiling, we all really enjoyed our time together but probably the belief was the big thing.”
Slipper, who is preparing for his 121st Test but first as captain against the All Blacks, told reporters ahead of his side’s captain’s run that he was “inspired” to play for the Wallabies after watching Flatley and co. during their golden era and said the “connection” with the past was important.
But rather than talking up their chances of an upset victory over the All Blacks, the no-frills operator said he was intent to leave his actions do the talking on the field.
“We understand how big these games are for the rugby community,” he said.
“It’s been 20 years. I’ve never won it.
“It’s one thing talking about winning it, it’s another thing doing it. I’m not really interested in going down the path (and saying) we’re going to go out there and win.
“We’ve got to make sure we do it on the field instead of here in front of the media.”