The changing room after the South Africa game in the summer was one of the hardest places to be that I have ever experienced.
It was agonising. Against the Springboks in their own backyard, it looked like we had the game won. Up against one of the best sides in the world, we were within moments of making history.
But that was at 79 minutes and it was an entirely different story at the final whistle after a couple of mistakes. From a potential high, it ended up being one of the lowest points of my entire career.
It’s not a feeling I want to revisit nor a changing-room scene I want to walk into again today. That was so difficult to take and you don’t want to dwell on those memories but harness them positively and just make sure that doesn’t happen again.
We’re well aware our record against the southern hemisphere big three has been poor. Once again this summer we were let down by basic errors – and full credit to the Boks for playing to the final whistle and capitalising on those mistakes.
A lot’s been made of the psychological barrier in that regard but I don’t see that. Previous matches don’t have an influence on the next game. This is a fresh 80 minutes, another chance for a historic victory.
Simply put, we haven’t been good enough as a team – there’s nothing else that you can say when you lose that many games on the bounce (nine in a row to Australia since 2008). All we can do is hold our hands up and say, “We weren’t good enough”. But we’ve got a great chance to right that.
We’ve said it before but this weekend it’s playing for the full 80 minutes, it’s what the last two brutal weeks has been building towards.
The camp has been a tough one but it’s all been meticulously planned out with the Wallabies in mind. The thinking has been that if we’re pushed into tough decisions when utterly fatigued in training we can do the same – but this time with the right results – when it comes to the Millennium Stadium later today.
Some of the boys have said it’s the toughest training camp they’ve ever been on. I’m not sure how it compares to the infamous Poland trip – the fitness tests have been very different – but it’s certainly been tough.
The belief is there that we’ll win. Half of the side is made up of boys who played in their third and final Test for the British & Irish Lions in Australia and we want to replicate that result. We have to take confidence from that. To do the same in a Wales jersey would be a great achievement.
People have asked about our November targets but the only thing that matters is beating Australia right now and to break that poor run against southern hemisphere sides.
There’s also been the mention of this being a World Cup trial and, having Australia in our pool, I guess it is. And while everything we do is about building towards the World Cup next year, it’s about the here and now.
On a personal level, I feel like I have a point to prove in the wake of all the recent reports about my future at Racing Métro. I’ll admit that it was unsettling but that’s gone from my mind – if that sticks with you then it’s game over.
It was tough for a few days after that emerged but I think what it did and continues to do is drive me to prove myself more so, in that sense, it’s a positive for me. You have to experience those lows to become a better player and better person.
Going into the game, it’s not about expectations but playing to that whistle, and we can’t afford any mistakes.
Australia are the sort of side that will constantly have a crack at your scrum or line-out, they’re one of the most dangerous sides in the world off first-phase ball and they’re so quick from unstructured play. One minute, you’re on the offensive against them, the next minute you’re on the back foot.
The new £3.1m pitch at the Millennium Stadium should play to both teams’ strengths. The ground’s firm, the pace will be quick and it should make for a perfect spectacle.
Personally, I feel fresh. I’ve not played too much rugby for Racing but I’ve played enough to be internationally match fit.
It’s been great being back in the Wales camp, and for once not having to rely on my shoddy French language skills, or should I say lack of! Immediately, there’s no communication problem and it feels like the established faces and some youngsters have all slotted in well.
There is a sense of unfamiliarity in that it’s a new-look midfield partnership with George North alongside me and, with George being an established winger, I guess there’s greater responsibility on me.
But he’s a big lad and has an incredible amount of experience – 40-odd caps at the age of 22. He can more than hold his own at centre – I’ve seen him do it for Northampton and Wales before, scoring from there for both sides.
I can’t see him finding it remotely difficult to fit in at 13. He’s the sort of player who delivers on the big stage and anyway we’re used to a lot of chopping and changing in the backs. Often I’ll find myself popping up at 10, on the wing, centre, wherever. In modern rugby, you have to be interchangeable like that.
There’s some big names on the bench, namely Mike Phillips and Gethin Jenkins, and it’s great to have that experience to call on in the latter stages of the game. I know what both boys are like and they’ll be desperately disappointed not to be in the starting line-up.
As a squad, we’re in great shape. In past November internationals, we’ve had four or five, sometimes more, of our starting XV missing injured, but that’s not the case this time around.
A lot’s been reported about disarray in the Wallabies camp leading up to this tour but they’ve got an excellent new coach in Michael Cheika who’s had great success wherever he’s been: Leinster, Stade Français, the Waratahs.
We have to be aware of that and the fact that Australia are a dangerous team – they’ve got a great pool of big, natural rugby players and, in truth, they should have beaten the All Blacks the other weekend.
Will it be a case of the wounded Wallabies in this game? I don’t know. But a lot of stuff happens off the pitch in any world-class team. But whatever’s happened, I’m sure their players will let that go. They’ll do their talking on the pitch.
We aim to do the same, with the result leading to scenes of celebration in the changing rooms. With me turning the ripe old age of 28 today, what better way to mark it?Reuse content