If you trace the moment the Springboks believed they could win the last World Cup, it was in Wellington on September 15, 2018.
Rassie Erasmus had taken over the Springboks mere months earlier, he had led them to a thrilling 2-1 series win over England and the Rugby Championship was only halfway through the tournament.
And yet Erasmus delivered the most remarkable comment in the world following their five-point loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane when he said he would resign if the Springboks did not beat the All Blacks in New Zealand.
The comment was extraordinary to say the least given the All Blacks’ decade of dominance.
Low and behold though, the Springboks came from 12-0 behind to pull off an incredible 36-34 victory.
From that moment, the Springboks believed. They never looked back, as Erasmus and Siya Kolisi turned them into world beaters in the space of a year.
On Saturday, the Wallabies delivered the type of performance that should represent a line in the sand moment for Dave Rennie’s men as they ended their eight-match losing streak against Eddie Jones’ English side.
The Wallabies had every reason to roll over in Perth.
The loss of any playmaker is a significant one, but rarely does a player go down in a warm-up like it did in the case of Quade Cooper.
One moment Cooper was being interviewed, the next he was sitting behind the goal posts and the playmaker’s heart sunk.
The loss of a further two starters – fullback Tom Banks and tight-head prop (arguably the most important position in the modern age) Allan Alaalatoa – inside 30 minutes would have been a leap too far for most teams.
Throw in a red card to your lineout caller in Darcy Swain and the Wallabies could have thrown in the towel.
Under Michael Cheika the Wallabies often had second halves to forget because they cried foul every time a decision went against them.
Their performances matches the erratic nature of Cheika’s personality.
There were no excuses in Perth, though.
Instead, leadership shone.
Character was shown.
They found a way to stay in the fight through Noah Lolesio’s boot, as the young playmaker, who has been forced to learn Test rugby on the run since being handed his debut in the No.10 jersey against the All Blacks in his first season of professional rugby, kept the scoreboard ticking over.
When the Wallabies eventually entered the opposition red zone, Michael Hooper’s side showed a preciseness in attack that reappeared for the time in years against the Springboks in 2021 and returned against England in Perth.
Samu Kerevi, just as the Wallabies found out last year when he played for the first time since 2019, was central to their shape.
He was a truck in the midfield that bulldozed his way over the gain line and allowed space for the men around him like Andrew Kellaway, who was superb after shifting from the wing to fullback to cover Banks after his broken arm.
With Kellaway set for a long stay in the No.15 jersey, the Wallabies will have two weapons on either wing in Marika Koroibete and Jordan Petaia. It could also pave the way for Suliasi Vunivalu to make his debut off the bench on his home ground in Brisbane.
With Taniela Tupou to make a timely return following Alaalatoa’s concussion, the Wallabies are building a side that has threats across the park.
But character, continuity of selection and consistency of play have been missing ingredients for the Wallabies for years.
“I think they’ve (the Wallabies) got a maturing team,” Jones said.
“It’s a team that’s evolving.
“They’ve got some consistency in selection and they’re developing nicely.”
Rennie was naturally pleased with his side’s fight, while admitting there was much to work on after a slow, grinding first half.
“As a spectacle, it probably wasn’t a pretty first half, but as far as theatre and character it was a helluva night,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot more in us but (I’m) really rapt with the attitude and the character we showed.”
Of course none of this matters much unless they continue to improve.
Defeat in Brisbane wouldn’t necessarily spell disaster. After all, the Springboks failed to defeat the All Blacks in their return match against the Kiwis at home following their Wellington win.
But the Wallabies do need to continue on their upwards trajectory.
Leadership and keeping things in perspective is essential.
Fortunately the Wallabies have the coolest coach in international rugby.
Rennie barely broke a smile during Saturday’s victory.
He is a softly spoken man, who is as dry as the Australian desert and keeps his men grounded.
The Wallabies are benefiting from the increasing competitiveness of the squad, too.
Two years ago Tate McDermott, Hunter Paisami and Tom Wright were being rushed into Test rugby.
Now they can’t even make the squad despite growing as players, too.
Australia A may have suffered a narrow defeat on Saturday too, but the experience of playing international rugby against the Pacific Islands will only help the developing depth.
Fraser McReight’s class was on display, while others like Ryan Smith took the next step forward.
Meat is being on the bones.
Brisbane will be another test of the Wallabies’ development.
Should the Wallabies kick on though, they will likely look back on their drought-breaking success against England in the west as the moment they turned the corner.