Shades of 2015 as Wallabies build team spirit

A phone-free, pre-tournament training camp and the soothing waters of Japanese onsens have helped the Australia players form a strong bond.

TOKYO, 26 Sep - Four years ago Australia slipped into Rugby World Cup 2015 under the radar, started efficiently, if not spectacularly, and then proceeded to make their way to the final. 

The feeling is starting to grow, both inside and outside the current camp that something similar may be on the cards for the Wallabies over the next five weeks. 

Kurtley Beale played a key role in Australia's unexpected run to the final last time out and the effervescent full-back is quietly excited already to be drawing parallels. 

"There are some similarities, no doubt," Beale said in Tokyo. "One of the best things about the 2015 team was how tight we were off the field and that's an important one that I really believe can take us to the next step."

This togetherness, obvious at training in the smiles of veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper and captain Michael Hooper above, appears to have been born in the spectacular, if unforgiving, wilds of New Caledonia - a remote island in the South Pacific. 

"They don't do Vodafone roaming over there so the boys weren't able to connect," prop Sekope Kepu said of the pre-tournament training camp.

"Guys hung out, went paddle boarding, did different activities - there were groups of 15-20 in the best cafe we could find on the island, playing cards and Nintendo games. We just made do with what we had."

Team bonding is nothing new, but after a rough three years since falling at the final hurdle to champions New Zealand, the Wallabies appear to have found something special in the past 12 months.

"It all starts with working hard together and being pushed into circumstances where you have got to fight for each other and pull your mate through, whatever the adversity might be," Kepu said.

The fact that his team calmly recovered from being 21-12 down early in the second half against Fiji in their opening pool D match on Saturday gives added weight to such words.

 

That togetherness, which seemed so obvious by its absence in 2018 when the Wallabies lost nine of their 13 test matches, has been getting a helping hand in Japan. 

"The onsens (hot spring bathing houses) here in Japan have been great for the guys who are a little bit shy to get everything off in front of each other," Kepu said, his laugh not masking the very real role the Japanese saunas have been playing.

"It's been great. Guys are pulling in other guys to experience it and get into it. It's been awesome, just to be able to sit with different guys and have conversations over whatever it might be that they're going through." 

Such contentedness can, of course, be fickle, with a defeat against Wales on Sunday liable to stir things up but momentum does seem to be building behind the notorious World Cup specialists. Defence coach Nathan Grey, who was part of the backroom team in 2015 and also won the 1999 World Cup as a player, certainly likes what he has been seeing. 

"We believe the things the guys do and have been doing and continue to do are going to hold us in good stead," Grey said.

"Building that trust and respect among one another is critical. We have been looking to build that momentum both on and off the field and it comes in lots of different guises."

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