Fitness first the Wallaby mantra
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.