SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia coach Michael Cheika will run his players through two training camps in rural New South Wales before the Wallabies begin their unlikely quest to wrest back the Bledisloe Cup from New Zealand.
The Wallabies have not held the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy since 2003 and a patchy June international campaign have greatly diminished Australian optimism about doing so this year.
Two of the three Bledisloe Cup tests form part of the Rugby Championship, which opens on Aug. 19 in Sydney with the first clash between the Wallabies and world champion All Blacks.
Cheika, who complained during the June window that his players were not fit enough for test rugby, will hold training camps in Newcastle and Cessnock before the team moves to Penrith in western Sydney ahead of the opener.
“Country and regional rugby all around Australia is our heartland,” Cheika said.
“The Wallaby support is very strong in these areas so Cessnock and Newcastle will be a great chance for us to feel that support before we take on New Zealand.”
Cheika added the Wallabies would base themselves in Penrith in an attempt to tap into a western Sydney market that has been a battleground for competing football codes for a number of years.
“It’s no secret that rugby hasn’t made a strong home in the west of Sydney,” Cheika added.
“It’s weird because we have so many players in our professional teams who are born and bred in the area. We want to change that by taking the Wallaby jersey there for people to see a little more about who we are.”
Cheika took the Wallabies to the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, where they lost to the All Blacks, but the national team and Australian Super Rugby sides and have struggled ever since.
The Super League teams won just three of the 25 games against New Zealand sides last year and have yet to win any of the 23 games in 2017, with just two trans-Tasman clashes remaining this weekend in the final round of the regular season.
The Wallabies were thrashed three times by the All Blacks last year and laboured through a relatively easy June schedule as the All Blacks played out a titanic series with the British and Irish Lions.
After easing past Fiji in Melbourne, Australia suffered a 24-19 loss to Scotland in Sydney before requiring two late tries to beat Italy 40-27 at Lang Park.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Nick Mulvenney