AUSSIES ON THE BALL

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into dark places, but they’ll have to bond to­gether to get them­selves out of it,” he ex­plains.

It’s go­ing to be a tough time, Mitchell in­sists, “but they’re the times you need to get ready for be­fore they go off to Ja­pan and ex­pe­ri­ence hard times, in a rugby sense.”

The road to Tokyo for this team has re­minded the re­tired star of his own glory days and the last

World Cup cam­paign he was a part of – mak­ing the match-win­ning break against Ar­gentina which put the Aussies in the fi nal.

With the Wal­la­bies giv­ing fans a glim­mer of hope they could re­peat those hero­ics af­ter their stel­lar per­for­mance in the fi rst Bledis­loe Cup match in Perth, Mitchell is un­apolo­get­i­cally on the band wagon they can do it again. “I’m al­ready start­ing to sense some sim­i­lar­ity be­tween our group and this one. They will write their own story, but just the way our per­for­mances lead­ing into the World Cup in Eng­land weren’t where we wanted them to be ... you can hear the team now, just the way they speak about each other in in­ter­views, I can see them all com­ing to­gether.”

A Cheika acolyte, Mitchell is cer­tain no hot stone will be left un­turned in the days lead­ing into Tokyo.

Keep­ing the team fo­cused has been made harder by the Is­rael Fo­lau ter­mi­na­tion and the fall­out from his in­flam­ma­tory social media post – which has largely de­railed any pos­i­tive press for the team he was ex­pected to star for in this tour­na­ment.

Rel­e­gated to the side­lines un­til his un­fair dis­missal case is heard next Fe­bru­ary, Fo­lau would have been a valu­able strike player but Mitchell says his ab­sence has cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties for oth­ers to shine.

The form of Nic White and James O’Con­nor, in par­tic­u­lar, have given se­lec­tors “op­tions,” the Fox Sports an­a­lyst says, and could prove the dif­fer­ence come game time. “Just that lit­tle change up, bring­ing James in at 13, who was able to link the mid­field to the out­side backs

... at least in the fi rst Bledis­loe ... it proved that worked well.”

Mak­ing his own tran­si­tion from the play­ers ranks to the com­men­tary box has been seam­less for the one-time Queens­land Reds and Western Force star – even if he’s suf­fer­ing from FOMO (fear of miss­ing out) right now.

“I think any­one whose played would love the op­por­tu­nity to do that again, but you’ve got to un­der­stand when your time is done and the play­ers in that po­si­tion are more ca­pa­ble than us older guys are.”

Still, he bleeds true blue, or rather green and gold. “I don’t think we can win it, I be­lieve we can. Be­sides the fact I’m Aus­tralian and I’ve worn the jersey, I have al­ways thought they’ve had the squad with the abil­ity to go out there and do some­thing spe­cial,” he en­thuses.

Just in case his ex­cite­ment over­whelms him, Mitchell jokes: “If you see me lim­ber­ing up on the side­line, you should take the beer out of my hands.”

7PM, SATUR­DAY, SEPTEM­BER 7, ON FOX SPORTS AND 10. RUGBY WORLD CUP STREAMS ON FOX SPORTS [505] FROM FRI­DAY, SEPTEM­BER 20

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