The Wallabies used to wear their hearts on their sleeves. These days they tend to wear their insecurities, mental frailties and physical weaknesses on their sleeves.

They have been in camp this week, doing slightly nutty things, such as training with tape over their mouths to force them to breathe through their noses.

The science no doubt makes sense, but it still feels a bit wacky, a bit contrived, and a bit of a gimmick to grab headlines and say to a sceptical Australian fan base, "look, we are working our socks off, because we take this whole Bledisloe Cup business deadly seriously".

But seeing pictures of star Wallabies with tape over their mouths also gave off a troubling vibe of humiliation.


Perhaps this nasal breathing regime will fast-track their fitness levels, but the intent of doing it appeared to be more about forcing the players - in the most overt and potentially degrading way - to acknowledge that the coaching staff don't think they are fit enough.

That message could have been relayed behind closed doors. Perhaps should have been relayed behind closed doors with the remedy programme equally obscured from public vision.

If the coaching staff don't think the players are collectively fit enough, why does the world need to know? Why do the All Blacks need to know?

And this question is integral to not just this year's Bledisloe Cup series, but also to the longer term ability of this rivalry to recover and sustain its relevance.

Australia's Super Rugby teams collectively lost all 26 encounters with New Zealand sides this year. They only won three last year and the Wallabies are on a five-test losing streak against the All Blacks.

It shouldn't be like this. Australian Super Rugby teams haven't fared so badly against South African sides.

Nor have they been so outclassed by the Springboks and the truth is that the Wallabies are a good team.

They have good players and a good coaching team, but there is no doubt that in their heads, they have let the All Blacks become the big, bad bogeyman.


Test rugby is a mental game as much as it is physical and Australia's players may now be convinced they are in some way inferior - that they shouldn't have realistic expectations of winning when they play against New Zealanders.

It's an incredible state of affairs that a nation renowned for producing athletes and sports teams with incredible conviction in their own ability, now has a rugby team that so painfully lacks self belief.

The contrast is stunning. The Wallabies are in camp because all five of their Super Rugby teams are out.

They are being put through this punishing training regime, because they are deemed to not be fit enough, which also carries the implication that the coaching staff believe this is why the players aren't good enough.

So their weaknesses are being rammed down their throats, while they watch most of the likely All Blacks squad battle it out for Super Rugby supremacy, their skills, speed, conditioning and decision-making all being publicly revered.

In what sort of mental state that will leave the Wallabies when they play the first Bledisloe Cup clash in mid-August is hard to tell. Perhaps all this negative reinforcement will make them look at themselves and vow to work harder to fix things.

They could potentially be inspired by the fear of further humiliation - stiffen their collective resolve to no longer be forced into degrading stunts, such as having to train with tape over their mouths, so the world can mock them for not being fit enough.

Or perhaps their confidence will sink further.

Perhaps these next few weeks will only confirm in Wallaby heads that there is a gap - real or perceived - between their ability and that of the All Blacks.