Mental toughness hitting new peak: Cheika

The Rugby Championship
by Sam Phillips

Both physically and mentally, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika believes his side is getting used to pushing through uncomfortable positions.

The Wallabies proved as much in Bloemfontein, throwing counterpunches to every Springboks try in the second half, even as the altitude took hold.

Several players could be seen sucking in the big ones but the fact that they were applying themselves just as well in the last minute as they were in the first was a big tick in Cheika's eyes.

"The squad’s stepping forward in mentality more than anything," Cheika said.

"They’re starting to get a bit more mentally tough.

"Mentally we’ve got to say, right, this is uncomfortable I’ve got more in me.

"If you look at it in perspective where we’ve been this year, bar (the first) game, where we had to comeback against New Zealand, we’ve been right up there.

"Either winning or losing at the last minute or drawing with a team that is still relatively light on experience.

"I like the group of players we’ve got - we’ll be sticking with them."

The exciting thing, in Cheika's eyes, is that there is still plenty of improvement to come in a team that was inches away from two big overseas wins - in Dunedin and Bloemfontein.

"In the fitness game we stayed in it but I thought we had a lot more in us, especially with the finishers," he said.

"A lot of our guys are coming off a lot of negative criticism in the early part of the season and a lot of blokes probably don’t think … you’ve got to get guys believing.

"I think that’s happening, I do.

"Otherwise when (the Springboks) went past us, they would have kept going, we wouldn’t have been able to come back."

The first chance to build on the draw in Bloemfontein comes in Mendoza on Sunday morning (AEDT), a match that would all but lock up second place in The Rugby Championship, should they win.

"We’ve got to get a win there and bank on New Zealand getting a win over here and we could finish second - like we did last year - off the back of a first 40 minutes of The Rugby Championship that was a little bit diabolical," Cheika said.

 "Since then, we’ve got ourselves into a groove where we’re up there.

"Finishing second would be a good reward and then we’ve got to get our eyes on finishing first next year."

The Wallabies face the Pumas on Sunday morning in Mendoza, kicking off at 9:40am AEDT, broadcast LIVE on FOX SPORTS.