Why the Wallabies owe Sydney rugby fans nothing but their best in Ireland decider

Sydneysiders have not been afforded the privilege of watching the Wallabies at their best over the past few years.

Since the World Cup, the Wallabies have lost all four of their matches in Sydney. As a result, there has been a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of supporters desperate to witness first-hand some of the same magic Michael Hooper’s men produced at rugby’s centrepiece event.

Decider: Wallabies captain Michael Hooper fronts a press conference on Friday.

Decider: Wallabies captain Michael Hooper fronts a press conference on Friday.

On Saturday, in a decider against Ireland, the Wallabies have the perfect platform to cook up something special and, within the camp, they are quietly confident of getting the job done.

But it is important to remember the pain of the past.

Firstly, there was the dead rubber against Eddie Jones’ England in 2016. A record crowd of 44,063 witnessed the Old Enemy complete a humiliating series whitewash. Yes, it got worse.

Next up was a 42-8 loss to the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium. The following year, with no Australian Super Rugby side having won a game against Kiwi rivals, the Wallabies were torn to shreds in the Bledisloe Cup opener. Players could not board their plane to New Zealand the next morning any quicker.

However, diehard rugby fans from the harbour city will tell you last year’s 24-19 loss to Scotland in June cut deeper than any of the above.

There was a flurry of emotions whirling around the exit turnstiles of Allianz Stadium that afternoon – anger, sadness, confusion, bitterness. A viral Facebook rant from a fan named Jack Quigley best summed up the mood. It even prompted Michael Cheika to give him a call to explain himself.

This week, however, there is widespread optimism. People are talking rugby. Most days you can’t give away a Waratahs ticket but since the Wallabies flew in, a seat at Allianz Stadium on Saturday has become the hottest item in town.

“You get to look at your phone a little bit and people are contacting you and trying to snag a ticket,” said captain Michael Hooper. “That’s really great for rugby and us as players, and I’m sure people will enjoy it tomorrow night.

“I’m absolutely rapt to come here and have a deciding game and have a fantastic spectacle here tomorrow night. We’ve talked it up being a grand final, so it’s going to be tough on the field, but just the whole atmosphere and the buzz around [is exciting].

“When we rolled into Sydney there was a pretty low mood after that game last week in Melbourne and it takes you a while. Particularly when you get into a new place, that re-energises you and you realise the occasion that it is."

The Wallabies want to be battle-hardened 16 months out from a World Cup. The mental feat of knocking off Ireland, the reigning Grand Slam Six Nations champions, could have a profound effect on performances in the short to medium term.

“[It is about] knowing that you can achieve at this level and, when things are on the line, you play the way you want to play,” Hooper said. “That’s been a really strong point for us this week.

“On the flip side, Ireland would be thinking the exact same way and, for us and the rest of the year, if you win this it sets you up nicely.”

There has been a real focus this series on the back rows of both sides, given they are markedly different in composition and strengths.

For the third and final Test, the Wallabies will unleash Lukhan Tui at No.6 for his starting debut at international level.

David Pocock and Hooper were workaholics at breakdowns in Brisbane and Melbourne and don’t expect anything different from the duo.

“As far as myself and him are concerned, [we] will function pretty similarly to how it has been,” Hooper said. “[We have] a taller, big body in Lukhan coming in. He has been outstanding off the bench in his appearances so far and he’s really hungry to come out and make a statement. I think he’s got a lot to show, and our back row is excited by the challenge.”

The beauty of a three-Test series is that tactics cannot remain stagnant. Analyse what happened in the second Test but take it with a grain of salt. Will the Wallabies really go all-out attack, as Cheika promised this week? Will Australia continue to kick to Israel Folau out wide? Will Ireland buck the trend and kick for touch and actually try and score some tries?

“We’ve had two games now and both teams have felt each other out,” Hooper said. "So I’m sure they’ve cooked up a few things to catch us off-guard tomorrow night, as we have too.”

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