Talented Wallabies must learn how to close the deal, says Herbert
It's all in the mind, says Dan Herbert, on the art of winning, which seems to have deserted his beloved Wallabies against the All Blacks.
'What we lack right now is the mental toughness. I believe the All Blacks have the mental edge over us, they have the belief,' says Herbert, a member of Wallaby team who won the 1999 World Cup.
Herbert, who was in town as a guest speaker at the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's Long Lunch, points to the 10-game losing streak to New Zealand, as well as the Australian sevens team's performance at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi where they had to settle for the silver medal.
'On the last two occasions an Australian rugby side met a New Zealand team, we were leading before losing in the last minutes. At the Commonwealth Games we were up 22-7 before the Kiwis came back to win the gold medal. The same happened in the last Bledisloe game in Sydney,' Herbert said.
'New Zealand have that belief, that even if they are behind, they can win, whereas our guys are questioning it because they are young and a little bit fearless in some respects. That plays against them. We have some guys who play with reckless abandon and make crucial mistakes at times. I guess it is part of the learning experience.'
That is why Herbert (pictured) is hoping that next Saturday the Wallabies beat the All Blacks by one or two points, and not by a big score. He thinks a big lesson will be learned this way. 'I would be happy if we win by one point for that would mean we know how to close down a game. We have to learn how to do that quickly. Being a young team, they want to be flashy and score every time. But sometimes it is more prudent to be patient,' he adds.
An outstanding centre who made his debut as a 20-year-old against Ireland in 1994, Herbert made his mark alongside Tim Horan at the 1999 World Cup. He won 67 caps and was a member of the Wallaby golden era that included winning five Bledisloe Cups, the British Lions series victory in 2001 and also a Tri-Nations trophy.
Herbert, who is now the commercial officer with the Queensland Rugby Union, believes the current crop of young Wallabies has the potential to match those feats but says it will all depend on how soon leaders emerge in key positions.
'I was lucky enough to come through at a time when we had a number of leaders in our side, like John Eales and Tim Horan who had that belief they could win all the time.
'We are starting to find that now and have young guys who are very gifted but who don't have the leadership experience as yet. New Zealand have that with people like Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but I think we are getting there. David Pocock, who 12 months ago was nowhere, is now chipping away at the heels of McCaw. He is the hungry young dog, but we need more players like this across the board.'
Will Genia and Quade Cooper in the backs fit the bill perfectly for Herbert but he feels Matt Giteau still has a lot to offer simply due to his years of experience. 'He hasn't been at his best in the past 12 months, but you don't become a bad player overnight. I know he will be back refreshed,' Herbert said.
Injuries earlier in the year to props Ben Alexander and Benn Robinson have been a blessing in disguise, according to Herbert, who feels the Wallabies have come on leaps and bounds in this vital area.
'What those injuries did was give guys like James Slipper an opportunity and now they are a lot better for it. We have built some depth and now we suddenly have five or six capable front-rowers, like Salesa Maafu, whereas in the past we struggled to put out two good props.
'I'm very encouraged with what I see despite the 10-game losing streak to the All Blacks. I think in the next 12 months, Australia will be a fantastic team. All the 10 losses to the All Blacks will be forgiven if we win the World Cup. This is our Olympics. But, saying that, we don't like losing to the All Blacks ever.'
A victory for the Wallabies in Hong Kong will also be important in the bigger World Cup picture as it will plant a seed of doubt in the All Blacks said Herbert.
'If we could deal a psychological blow to New Zealand, it will be a huge boost.'