Rugby
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Wallabies' fitness work set to pay off at scene of Beale's big moment

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."

Meanwhile, Kurtley Beale is hoping for a similar feeling to the one he experienced when the Wallabies last travelled to Bloemfontein.

Beale was the hero the last time Australia played a Test match at Vodacom Park, booting the winning penalty goal after the siren to seal a euphoric 41-39 victory over the Springboks in 2010. It was the first win at altitude in South Africa for the Wallabies in 54 years and one of their greatest overseas results of the modern era.

"I've never hit a ball so sweetly," Beale told reporters after touching down in Johannesburg ahead of their clash with the Springboks on Sunday morning (AEST). "It felt great, coming off the boot. There are some good memories there, especially in the sheds afterwards.

"As soon as it went over I was swamped by the boys - we had some special milestones as well that night with (Stephen) Moorey and Drew Mitchell playing their 50th. It was a pretty special moment for me and for the team, and it helped build momentum into that year. And it turned out to be a pretty good year for us."

Beale said another triumph in South Africa would do wonders for a team that appears to have turned a corner in their past three matches, having recovered from a wretched June and a poor start to the Rugby Championship.

Michael Cheika's men came close to a miraculous upset against the All Blacks in Dunedin, drew with the Springboks in a tense Perth arm wrestle, and then outclassed Argentina in a 45-20 win in Canberra two weeks ago that proved what's possible when their attacking structure clicks.

"Getting a win over here is one of the toughest things in Test match rugby," Beale said. "If we get this win, it's going to put us into a really good position to build momentum into the season.

"I think it's just a matter of making sure we start well and that we're doing it - not waiting for a halftime speech or a bit of a kick up the backside by the senior players. Everyone's just got to make sure we start from when that whistle goes and take that confidence that's definitely been building."

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