Brumbies’ early exit a boon to the Wal­la­bies

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

MEL­BOURNE: The ACT Brumbies’ rapid exit from the play-offs capped a sea­son of gloom for Aus­tralia’s Su­per Rugby teams but has of­fered a sil­ver lin­ing for the Wal­la­bies as they race to get fit for stiff tests against the All Blacks.

While three New Zealand sides bat­tle in the Su­per semi­fi­nals this week, Aus­tralia coach Michael Cheika has gath­ered a bumper 38-man squad for a pun­ish­ing train­ing camp in the New South Wales city of New­cas­tle ahead of their Rugby Cham­pi­onship opener against the All Blacks in Syd­ney on 19 Au­gust.

The squad will be fur­ther re­in­forced by another eight or so Brumbies later this week in the wake of their 35-16 loss to the Hur­ri­canes in Can­berra on Fri­day.

The boot camp comes as a sense of cri­sis en­gulfs Aus­tralian rugby af­ter the na­tion’s five teams failed to beat a sin­gle New Zealand op­po­nent in 26 matches this sea­son.

That has stoked fears the Wal­la­bies could face a tor­rid time in the three-test Bledis­loe Cup se­ries against the world cham­pi­ons, hav­ing al­ready suf­fered a sur­prise loss to Scot­land and a huge scare against Italy in the June in­ter­na­tion­als.

The ba­sic level of fit­ness of Aus­tralia’s play­ers came un­der the mi­cro­scope dur­ing the Su­per Rugby sea­son, with the teams prone to fad­ing badly late on dur­ing games against New Zealand op­po­si­tion.

Wal­la­bies cap­tain Stephen Moore com­plained af­ter the June se­ries that the pro­vin­cial sides had failed to pre­pare play­ers for the rigours of test rugby.

Cheika said the boot camp would also aim to make Wal­la­bies hope­fuls more men­tally fit for the All Blacks chal­lenge.

“The first cou­ple of weeks of our prepa­ra­tion has to be able to get us to the phys­i­cal and men­tal level where we be­lieve we can go out there and win the game,” he said.

“I know the way I like to coach and the game we need to play, we need to be at the best fit­ness level we can be.

“We’re not go­ing to ac­quire that all in a cou­ple of weeks but at the end of the day ... we need to get them to turn the key in­side of their minds to get them to the next level.

“Be­cause the games we play against New Zealand will prob­a­bly be the most in­tense the guys have played in their ca­reers.”

Af­ter the Syd­ney test, the Wal­la­bies will travel to Dunedin for the sec­ond Rugby Cham­pi­onship game against the All Blacks a week later.

While ver­sa­tile back Kurt­ley Beale is on track to re­cover from a ham­string injury, Karmichael Hunt, who played at in­side cen­tre dur­ing the June matches, has been ruled out of the All Blacks matches af­ter an­kle surgery and could miss up to a month of the Rugby Cham­pi­onship, Cheika con­firmed.

The Wal­la­bies will also head in­land to the Hunter Val­ley town of Cess­nock for a sec­ond train­ing camp be­fore bas­ing them­selves in western Syd­ney ahead of the Cham­pi­onship.

The ru­ral tour is aimed at ‘win­ning hearts and minds’ out­side of Aus­tralia’s ma­jor cen­tres and shoring up sup­port af­ter a dif­fi­cult two years since the Wal­la­bies’ run to the World Cup fi­nal.

“One thing we’re try­ing to do is to let peo­ple in the re­gional ar­eas and coun­try ar­eas also see what the Wal­la­bies are about,” said Cheika.

“We want to make them proud when we play.”

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