Fit­ness first the Wal­laby mantra

NT News - - RUGBY UNION - IAIN PAYTEN

COACH Michael Cheika has re­vealed the Wal­la­bies’ lack­lus­tre June se­ries, in­volv­ing a loss to Scot­land and a nearmiss against Italy, was part of a “risk” to load the team up with fit­ness train­ing and pre­pare them for the rest of the year.

Sub-stan­dard Wal­laby per­for­mances duly copped crit­i­cism but Cheika be­lieves that June gam­ble is now pay­ing off, af­ter an­other strong sec­ond­half from the Wal­la­bies helped them pum­mel Ar­gentina in Can­berra on Satur­day.

The Wal­la­bies put a poor first 40 min­utes be­hind them to power home with five sec­ond-half tries and a 25-point win; the team’s first in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship.

It was the lat­est ex­am­ple of the Wal­la­bies per­form­ing well at the back-end of games, af­ter a fight­back in Syd­ney, a backand-forth slugfest in Dunedin and a gritty draw against the South Africa in Perth.

On av­er­age they’ve scored 22 points af­ter or­anges and only con­ceded 14 and it has come via much-im­proved con­di­tion­ing, said Cheika.

“We copped a lot of flak there but we trained them hard on pur­pose,” Cheika said.

“We knew they’d have a bit of (fa­tigue) build up there but we took a bit of a risk to make sure we were get­ting the work in our legs to keep go­ing.”

There was con­cern in Aus­tralian rugby at the end of the June se­ries when Cheika and then-cap­tain Stephen Moore said play­ers weren’t fit enough com­ing out of Su­per Rugby.

Cheika later ex­plained it meant they were not fit enough to play at the in­ten­sity he de­mands for 80 min­utes, but af­ter more lung-bust­ing work done in pre-TRC camps, the play­ers now have that “run­ning” in their legs, Cheika said.

“Just in the way we are able to play out the back half of games,” he said.

“Even in Dunedin, we came back in that back 20. Yes­ter­day, there was a 4½-minute phase of play in the sec­ond half that went and set up the rest of the half for us, be­cause I felt like we had the (bet­ter) run­ning af­ter that in our legs.

“Even South Africa (in Perth), it was more poor play. We made some great scram­bles back to save our­selves there a cou­ple of times. I am pretty pleased with that area now.”

The Wal­la­bies still sit third on the Rugby Cham­pi­onship with one win from four starts but Cheika is con­tent with the team’s progress. The win per­cent­age could eas­ily have been far more favourable, he said, and on the cur­rent path, it will be in the fu­ture.

“If you look at the games it’s prob­a­bly just a bit of ma­tu­rity that hasn’t seen us pos­si­bly with three wins at this stage,” Cheika said.

The Wal­la­bies have a week off be­fore fly­ing to South Africa to play the Boks in Bloem­fontein.

Fit­ness will be vi­tal to beat the Spring­boks at al­ti­tude but the big chal­lenge will un­doubt­edly be sur­viv­ing the an­gry re­bound on its way af­ter the All Blacks hum­bled South Africa 57-0 at the week­end.

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