Punishing camp forged strongest ever Wallabies bonds: AAC

by Iain Payten

He’s already a veteran of three World Cups but centre Adam Ashley-Cooper rates the 2019 Wallabies as “more connected” than in any of his previous campaigns.

And coach Michael Cheika believes some “old school” conditioning torture at their just-completed camp in Noumea is partly to thank for the tight bonds of the Wallabies.

The Wallabies arrived back in Sydney on Thursday after spending ten days on the small Pacific island.

As much as possible, Cheika has been attempting to replicate the successful formula used in 2015 and just as they did in the USA four years ago, the Wallabies underwent a gruelling camp in New Caledonia.

The surface-level goal was to load up on conditioning to have the team in peak condition throughout the World Cup, but as seen with his fondness for stair and hill sprints, Cheika is also a big believer in the unifying powers of shared pain.

And so under the instruction of Wallabies conditioning coach Dean Benton, the World Cup squad - and a group of standby players - were flogged with an not-so-standard array of fitness sessions.

Players were snapped running up stadium bleachers with weights on their shoulders and there were other left-field methods, said Cheika.

"We wanted to just train hard, we did a lot of different things,” Cheika said at Sydney Airport.

"Some very old-school and some new school, I suppose, to mix it up. And kept them guessing I suppose from the very start. 

"And it was tough, so recovery was really important, the way the days were done. We had great facilities over there so players were pushed and then we started preparing towards the back end of this week for the game on Saturday.'

Ashley-Cooper attended the 2015 camp at Notre Dame University and said “both were very tough”.

“It was pretty similar in a way where we got to top up a lot of conditioning and classic Cheik pre-Cup kind of format,” Ashley-Cooper said.

"We did plenty of everything. It was extremely tough. It was great to get away as well, to be kind of isolated like that and only a two-and-a-half hour flight away from Sydney, it felt like we were ages away. It actually felt like we were in Europe, being up there in New Caledonia."

It might seem unusual to do intense fitness training on the eve of the World Cup but Ashley-Cooper said the benefits of the 2015 camp at Notre Dame were felt at the back end of the tournament, when trainings are usually much lighter to allow for the recovery needed during an unbroken seven-game stretch.

"The last stages I think, we were starting to realise the pre-Cup camp in Chicago (and Notre Dame) really laid a solid foundation for us and allowed us to get to to the end,” he said. 

"It was a really good block to top up on those conditioning levels and it out every one in good shape to get to the end and I think that’s what this camp was about.”

The 2015 Wallabies spoke often of having brewed up very tight connections with each other, and Ashley-Cooper said that same kinship - and more - was evident in the 2019 crew.

"I feel that we are much more connected as a group and I am really excited about the potential that this group can achieve up there. It’s really exciting,” he said. 

"I am really enjoying the company of the group. We are building a really good culture and I feel there is a deeper desire to do really well. Not only for ourselves and the team, but for our support base back here and our game.”

Asked how he measured the deeper desire, Ashley-Cooper said: "Just the willingness to work really hard. That was on display daily up in New Caledonia. The boys were ripping in, and it was tough. But the guys were stepping up each day, wanting to work really hard and that’s really pleasing.”

Just weeks out from the World Cup, the Wallabies’ trip to Noumea saw them effectively take themselves off the radar and there was very little media access.

But Cheika said the goal was for the team to build those bonds in a secluded location. 

"One of the reasons we went over there was to have a distractions-free environment and concentrate on training hard, and we certainly got that,” he said.

"We pushed the boundaries in a lot of areas and I was really pleased both on and off the field, a lot of the team building as well we wanted to do over and building that spirit inside of the team was really good.

"I am really pleased with the way the team has blended together, considering a lot of the things that have happened around us over the last little while (and) last year. We have kept a steady course, a lot of good relationships been built between staff and players and obviously the playing group together.”