Hard work begins now for Wallabies

CARDIFF: For Michael Cheika and his Wallabies side, the hard work begins now.

After cruising to victory in Yokohama and making the long haul across multiple time-zones, the Wallabies have settled into chilly Cardiff.

While the spring tour may technically include the Japan fixture, the big three games are in front of the squad.

Last year Australia got off to an auspicious start. They thrashed Wales, found a way to win by a point against Scotland and did enough to keep France at bay.

Hopes of an elusive grand slam, something Australia have not achieved since the 1984 team coached by Alan Jones, were high.

But losses to Ireland and then England consigned Australia to a mere pass mark for the tour.

Twelve months on and this is a very different Wallabies team.

In 2016, Australia didn't look like beating the All Blacks. This year, with more kilometres in their legs and more skills thanks to the work of Mick Byrne, they snapped a seven-game losing streak against their old rivals in Brisbane.

When they touched down at Heathrow last year, the Wallabies were low on confidence but played better than many expected. Now, Cheika's rhetoric that the team was in a rebuilding phase is starting to ring true. To grow, you have to lay the foundations and build from the ground up.

Australia's scrum was largely dominant throughout the Rugby Championship, while a string of young forwards - Izack Rodda and Jack Dempsey - are proving their worth. The back line has significantly more confidence than the one rolled out in June.

While the centrepiece match of the tour is the England Test at Twickenham next Saturday, the focus now is solely on Wales, a team that has failed to beat Australia in their past 12 meetings.

The Welsh have positional issues of their own and are struggling to find an openside breakaway, who will be tasked with getting the better of inspirational Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper.

Monday was a lighter day of training for the Wallabies given players were still recovering from jet lag.

Bernard Foley, Karmichael Hunt and Will Genia were at training after missing the match in Yokohama.

Australia will need the trio firing if they are to continue their eight-year dominance over Wales.

But the Wallabies' entire year could be defined by what happens in their next three matches.

A win over New Zealand does prove the team is moving in the right direction but in the fair dinkum department, if the Wallabies cannot chalk up wins against Wales and Scotland over the next three weeks, serious questions need to be asked.

The England game is equally important. Victory here would paint a favourable picture of the Wallabies' year, particularly given where they have come from.

To beat the All Blacks, not lose to South Africa and knock off the world's second-best side - England - would be a significant improvement on the six wins from 15 attempts in 2016.

In two years, the Wallabies will face Wales in their pool at the Rugby World Cup in Japan and it will be their hardest match in the group stages.

Saturday will give a fair indication as to how they are tracking and hopefully validate Cheika's four-year plan.

This story Hard work begins now for Wallabies first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.