New Wallabies unburdened by past Bledisloe Cup defeats

The Kiwi kid who idolised Matt Giteau and the Gunnedah Red Devil coached by a Wallaby in the under-8s: They're just two of the new generation Wallabies coach Dave Rennie will take to New Zealand next month in the toughest start to a new era of Australian rugby one could ever imagine.

Throw in a few days' quarantine and the fact that only expat- or New Zealand-based Australians will likely find a seat at either Sky Stadium or Eden Park -- and then be brave enough to don a Wallabies jersey in amongst the black -- and the scale of the challenge that awaits Australia truly reveals itself.

Still, Irae Simone and Harry Wilson are part of 44-man squad Rennie hopes will be unburdened by the weight of the 18-year Bledisloe Cup drought, a team Australian rugby supporters hope can duke out at least one win in New Zealand so the series is at least alive when the two teams arrive back in Australia for the final two Bledisloe Tests and six weeks of the Rugby Championship.

For Simone, however, the first three-hour flight heading east will be a homecoming of sorts, as he returns to the country where his rugby skills were first honed, but from which he then departed in search of rugby league riches with the Rabbitohs in Australia.

"I played a lot of rep footy, I grew up playing rugby league and then at high school, I had no choice but to play rugby union," Simone told reporters on Tuesday. "But I'm a huge believer that once I left the nest and left school, I had to start paying my own bills and what not, that that was when my life really started.

"But what's funny is, my parents, they've got a whole video of [us] growing up and they asked me what team would I want to play for and I said the Wallabies. I looked up to a lot of players in the All Blacks but I've never wanted to play for the All Blacks, and my family [are] huge Wallabies supporters so they're pretty stoked about all this.

"To be asked that and [now] being told from my parents what I said back then, it's crazy. I start to pinch myself that I am here [with the Wallabies] and I'm pretty grateful to be given this opportunity. So I'm just going to take it all in and hopefully get a few games under the belt."

Simone attended renowned Auckland rugby nursery Mount Albert Grammar and actually formed a First XV midfield combination with All Blacks centre Jack Goodhue.

Twenty-five-year old Simone faces competition from potentially both James O'Connor and Matt To'omua for the No. 12 jersey, but he has an excellent role model in Wallabies great Giteau for when he is given his maiden Test opportunity.

"I'm not going to lie - my favourite player was Matt Giteau, just in terms of his skills, just how he approached the game; he's a player that I've always looked up to and then you had the greats like [George] Gregan," Simone said.

"So back then [Gregan's era], the Wallabies were at the peak, it's fair to say it's dropped down a few [pegs] the last few years, but I'm with a special group here that will take it up again. There's something special in this group and hopefully we can turn that into a winning mindset and win a few games."

If Simone's journey to the Wallabies follows a script more in line with the modern Australian rugby scene -- see Tupou and former Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu -- Wilson's is a throwback to the amateur years.

Brought up in country New South Wales, Wilson played rugby for the Gunnedah Junior Rugby Club where he had the good fortune of being coached by former Wallabies No. 8 Tim Gavin, who returned home to be a farmer in the nearby area once his rugby career was done.

Wilson would go on to boarding school in Brisbane where he starred at both rugby and cricket, but he recalls those early years under Gavin with particular fondness.

"It's pretty surreal, I guess, my first five years of rugby was for the Gunnedah Red Devils and Tim coached me each year," Wilson said Tuesday. "I guess at the time I knew he was a Wallaby but I was too young to realise [what that meant].

"But since then I have learned a lot about him and stayed in contact with him, especially over the last two years. I guess it's pretty lucky that when you're growing up in a country town you get coached by a great Wallaby; he was good mates with my dad back then and still is now ... but it was pretty surreal being coached by a Wallaby at such a young age."

Wilson is highly likely to get a shot at the All Blacks in New Zealand on Oct. 11 or 18, as he is one of only two specialist No. 8s in the squad alongside the Brumbies' Pete Samu.

Having earned huge plaudits for his performances for the Reds in Super Rugby -- where he caught the eye of Crusaders coach Scott Robertson -- and then again Super Rugby AU, Wilson's play has seen him compared with Wallabies great Toutai Kefu.

Just three years of age when Kefu was last running around and Australia last held the Bledisloe, Wilson's memories are largely scorched by All Blacks dominance.

But there is at least one positive experience to draw on.

"The last 20 years, that's all of my memories watching Australia [against] New Zealand in the Bledisloe. A lot of matches stand out, but last year, the match in Perth, I loved watching that, knowing a fair few of the boys from the Reds playing in it, it definitely was pretty special seeing Australia beat New Zealand.

"And it's definitely something I wanted to do for a long time; there's such a long history there and it would be a privilege to be a part of it."

Part of the Australia Under-20s team that defeated New Zealand last year, Wilson is just one of the new breed of Wallaby Rennie has in camp in Cessnock this week before they fly across to New Zealand.

Indications are that two-Test Wallabies star Jordan Petaia may be fit in time to feature in at least one of the Tests across the Tasman, but alongside the likes of Simone, Tom Wright, Filipo Daugunu, Trevor Hosea, Fraser McReight, James Ramm and others, Wilson and his young teammates will shoulder the expectation of a drought-breaking Bledisloe triumph.

But not the psychological burden of wounded Wallabies teams.

"Definitely. That's one of the mindsets we've had here [in camp], we want to win and we're not going to shy away from that," Wilson replied when asked if the new breed of Australia players were free of the All Blacks mental vice grip.

"That's the past, they've won the past, but there are so many new people in here and a lot of us haven't lost to them. And even the ones who have, Australia has been improving a lot recently.

"But that's the past and now we've got new coaches, a new [squad] here, so it's a fresh start and we'll look forward to it."