Eales: Wallabies giving Aussie fans plenty of hope
RUGBY legend John Eales believes the Wallabies will provide the instant fix to drag the struggling code out of hibernation and regain their place as Australia's most popular national team if they can just win the World Cup.
As the last Wallaby captain to win the World Cup, in 1999, Eales was part of a golden era of Australian rugby when crowds in excess of 100,000 would flock to see the team play. He knows first hand how quickly the public can fall back in love with rugby.
Those numbers have dropped off since those glory teams as the team has fallen on hard times but Eales is certain things will turn around if Michael Hooper's men can win this year's World Cup in Japan.
"Winning just puts you on so many agendas because Australians love winners," Eales said ahead of the Wallabies' last lead-up World Cup match against Samoa at Bankwest Stadium on Saturday.
"We see it happen at the Olympic Games where we watch sports that don't get much publicity in between but people become mini-experts on them.
"I suppose the hope is that at the end of this World Cup, there'll be a lot more mini-experts on the game that what there is now."
To win the World Cup for a third time, the Wallabies will have to dramatically lift their game after slumping to sixth in the world rankings but the first green shoots have started to appear.
Michael Cheika has given his players a licence to attack without fear and while that approach presents risks, last month's record 47-26 win over New Zealand in Perth was the proof that when they get it right, the Wallabies can beat anyone.
"Maybe there's four of five teams that could win the World Cup but then there's another three or four teams that could beat someone who could win the World Cup," Eales said.
"So what we've got is a really great situation in world rugby that is developing where there's a lot more unknowns.
"I think that's one of the great things about sport that you've got this balance between hope and unknown and while there's nothing certain, I think the Wallabies are going over there and Wallaby supporters are now going over there with a lot more hope for our team and how they might perform."
Eales was also part of the Australian team that won the 1991 World Cup on the back of a freewheeling attack led by David Campese, but the towering lock believes the key to winning this time is getting everyone on the same page to ride through the rough patches.
"I think it takes this ability to be great at the boring things, an ability to engender a feeling in the team that you're bigger as a team than you are as individuals and that grows through the tournament because there will be highs and lows throughout the tournament," Eales said.
"Players will get injured, they'll probably have to go home. There will be some guys in and out of form, some guys will do brilliant things, but it's the ability to deal with all those circumstances and continue to just grow as a team."