Brumbies’ early exit a boon to the Wallabies
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.”