The old-school fitness camp the Wallabies suffered through is set to pay huge dividends as they return to South Africa’s Highveld, assistant coach Mick Byrne says.
Australia’s record at altitude against the Springboks is dismal, having won a total of just three times in Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Pretoria – and only once in the last 54 years.
Coach Michael Cheika has suggested it is a purely mental roadblock that his players must overcome.
But they have also done the hard yards to ensure they can meet the physical demands of the challenge as well.
Cheika smashed his players with cardio in June and then again in the lead-up to Australia’s Rugby Championship opener last month, sending them on hill runs in Newcastle with their mouths taped shut as he pushed them past the point of exhaustion.
Former AFL ruckman Byrne said it will all come in handy when crunch time arrives during their clash with the Springboks in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning (AEST).
“I know (strength and conditioning) coaches will have a crack at me but it isn’t rocket science,” Byrne said.
“They talk about it being science but I didn’t have a lot of sports science around me when I played and we were able to get fit. It’s about hard work.
“Getting a good base of work, which we did in that August window, has set us up for the year really well.
“It’s going to be a help every week, but I guess if you’re looking for more oxygen and you’re not fit, you’re in trouble. If you’re fit you’ll be OK.
“We’re still not there, we’ve still got work to do but what we did in that window and how hard the players worked, we’ve seen some good results.”
Byrne acknowledged that the challenges of playing 1500m above sea level cannot be dismissed or simply talked down as something that both teams have to deal with.
“Obviously, you can’t hide away from the fact that altitude’s a different atmosphere,” he said.
“But I think the players adapt to it pretty quickly.
“The worst thing you can do is talk about it, so you just get on with it.
“We’ve put plans in place, we’ve come here, started our sessions this morning and just get on with our week.”