There is certainly no glamour in being ruled out of rugby all year with an injury that you thought would only take a few weeks to clear, unsure about whether you would even play again – which is exactly what David Pocock lived with this year. I know how much work you did off the field to get back playing with no guarantees at all, and how you responded to that challenge was incredible. No glamour at all in the fight which Christian Lealiifano has had, without even stepping onto the rugby field.
This season he has been immense in getting himself in the right condition both physically and mentally. He overcame huge challenges to play rugby again at the international level during the Rugby Championship and then to represent Australia at the World Cup.
I mention these few but there are stories like this right throughout our team that were never told but they battled through all the while, asking for the highest standards on the field while it was all happening.
That leads me to the families of the players and staff that were away while the team was in Japan and preparing beforehand.
The people who support us through all the different challenges we meet but also have to overcome the ones they meet themselves without us there for a lot of the time. To the wives, partners, children and parents – thank you. You have arguably sacrificed the most. You may not know it but you have helped push the one you love to achieve things that maybe they didn’t think they could achieve once upon a time. We are lucky to have you in our lives.
I want to take a moment to make mention of some of the guys who have more than likely played their last match for the Wallabies (although you can never say never …). To David Pocock, Will Genia, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Nick Phipps, Bernard Foley – thank you for representing Australia so passionately across your decorated careers.
I know some of you will continue playing outside of Australia, but I know how important your contributions have been to me and the Wallabies during my time as the coach here.
I would also like to give you all some insight into the invaluable leadership of Michael Hooper as captain and Samu Kerevi as vice-captain. Under some very difficult circumstances over the last couple of years, Michael, Samu and their leadership team, were able to keep this team in a place where honesty ruled, and the camaraderie inside the team was something you could not only feel but see, smell, touch and taste.
Michael is the true leader of our game on the field and we are lucky that he will be here to lead us over the next few years.
Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who has contacted me since that final whistle blew last Saturday. I have literally been overwhelmed by the messages of comfort and thanks. It’s been something I could not have expected at all.
Many of you have asked or hoped that I am doing OK, or not too sad etc… Yes, I am very disappointed that we are out of the World Cup, it hurts bad and it’s going to for a while yet, I won’t lie about that.
I’m not at all surprised or offended by the personal attacks from various individuals. Sport is about passion, emotion and opinions as much as anything else. You can never please everybody. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Please know this though; I have loved every minute of being the head coach of the Australian rugby team. I have been honoured and proud to have served all of you and have always strived to give you the best of my ability as a rugby coach and to represent you with all of my energy, heart and soul as a proud Australian on the world stage.
I know we are all feeling a little down right now but I believe that the game of rugby in Australia is a diamond that has been left unworn, and that some don’t think sparkles enough to be worn at the big dance. It simply needs to be polished so it can sparkle from under-6s right through to the golden oldies, for those who love the game, by those that love the game.
I am sure I’ll see you all on a rugby field somewhere in this great land very soon.