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No grand slam talk yet from Wallabies

By Darren Walton 06/11/2009 03:29:06 PM Comments (0)

They are the two words on every Australian rugby fan's lips this week but which the Wallabies dare not mutter in the lead-up to Saturday's much-anticipated clash with England at Twickenham.

"Grand" and "slam".

Given their well-documented struggles this year - and out of sheer respect for each of their looming rivals - the Wallabies have refused to publicly entertain the notion of sweeping past England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on successive November weekends.

"We're in a position where we really need to look at just the next team and the challenges that go with it," insists Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom.

"The grand slam is a hell of a long way away and, as much as you try as hard as you can, things don't always go your way and you can't worry about that.

"If we're going to be successful, we need to really knuckle down on each opponent as they come up and not think about the rest until they're facing us."

Elsom is a realist.

No Australian team has even attempted the grand slam since the Alan Jones-coached, Andrew Slack-captained, Mark Ella-inspired 1984 Wallabies achieved the unique feat.

A quarter of a century on and Elsom's class of 2009 have a rare chance to emulate Jones's trailblazers.

Elsom has good cause, though, for not contemplating anything but a first-leg win over England, with legends like Australia's two-time World Cup winners John Eales and Tim Horan among those who never even received the grand slam opportunity.

Not that Eales is begrudging Elsom's lot. He actually thinks they can pull it off.

"I'm an optimist, I always was when I played and believed we could win every game that we played and I still believe the Wallabies can win every game that they play," Eales said this week.

"I think we're in great shape actually and much better than what most people think. Of course it's not going to be easy - England this week.

"They're not at full strength, but England at Twickenham are always hard. And I think Wales and Ireland in particular are going to be big challenges for us."

Australia's ever-diplomatic coach Robbie Deans surprised no-one when he tipped England to be the Wallabies' greatest threat among the four Home Unions.

"Because it's on Saturday. It stands alone," Deans said, insisting the Wallabies hadn't mentioned the grand slam since '84 greats Slack, Ella, Nick Farr-Jones, Roger Gould, David Campese and Steve Williams attended last month's John Eales Medal presentation to wish his men the best of luck.

"Beyond that, there's no relevance," Deans said.

Placing the grand slam challenge into perspective, the Wallabies haven't won all their games on a northern hemisphere tour since 1998 - when they only played two Tests.

The Wallabies last won four spring-tour Tests in 1996.

As much as they try to avoid the grand-slam hype, fullback Adam Ashley-Cooper suspects there'll be an edge in the Wallabies dressing room before they run out on Saturday - especially after '84 slammer Stan Pilecki presents the match-day jerseys the day before.

"There's always that tension, the butterflies before a Test," Ashley-Cooper said. "I mean, we all get them. It's how you use them."

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