Wallabies 'ready for the fight' to restore morale
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Coach Michael Cheika has vowed the Wallabies will lift the spirits of the Australian game amid a demoralising Super Rugby campaign in this week's start to the international Test season.
Australian rugby is in the doldrums with its five franchises struggling and one, as yet unnamed, facing the axe when Super Rugby reverts to 15 teams next season form the current 18.
New Zealand teams are currently unbeaten in their 23 Super Rugby matches against Australian opposition this year.
Cheika said Sunday the Wallabies' first five Tests of 2017 were going to be "like Everest for us", but added that the players were ready for the fight.
Super Rugby takes a back seat for the next three weeks as the Wallabies take on Fiji, Scotland and Italy at home.
Also ahead in August is the Bledisloe Cup, which Australia has not been able to win back from the All Blacks since 2002.
"These first five games of our season, the three June Tests and the two Bledisloe Cup matches, are going to be like an Everest for us," Cheika said on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Offsiders programme.
"We've got to be fully prepared and we've got to enjoy the challenge as well... and get stuck into it.
"I'm a strong and passionate believer in rugby in this country. Yeah, there's some tough times on and off the field but it's what you get from those and how you respond."
Cheika added that Australian rugby fans were looking to the Wallabies to put things right on the field.
"We've got to play with a certain attitude that says we're here for the fight," he said.
"The Australian team will be playing with no fear and having been well prepared to go out there and have that positive mindset."
While Cheika believed that Australia had "punched above our weight so far... even to be where we are now -- third in the world", he wanted to set the team's sights even higher ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
"But maybe we've been satisfied at that level instead of going to the next step. You got to start believing and dreaming that.
"For the next generation of players, that's the mindset we want to put in their head."
The Wallabies kick off their 2017 international campaign against Fiji in Melbourne on Saturday, followed by Tests against Scotland in Sydney on June 17 and Italy in Brisbane on June 24.
Meanwhile, Reds centre Samu Kerevi and lock Rob Simmons will be sidelined for four-six weeks following injuries sustained while the side was in Samoa.
Simmons injured the AC joint in his shoulder at training last week, while Kerevi suffered a low-grade ankle syndesmosis injury in his side's loss to the Blues in Apia last Friday. Neither player requires surgery.
Reds head coach Nick Stiles said: "It's tough news for the two of them, but we're hopeful of having them back in time for our remaining two Super Rugby games.
"Rob has had a few shoulder issues in recent years, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the setback.
"Samu has been our best-attacking weapon over the last two seasons and was really looking forward to carrying that form into the June Test window, particularly against his native Fiji. He's devastated to be missing out on that.
"They're both resilient characters and are already looking at the positives of how they can use this time to get physically better.
"It's a credit to the work our medical and strength and conditioning staff have done over the last 18 months that these are only our second and third major injury setbacks of the season. We’ve come a long way in that space.
"The entire squad will be using the next four weeks to continue their development as we look to close out the season with a couple of strong performances."