Martin: Cheika's rising Wallabies finally fit Test bill
THE Wallabies didn't look very good this time last year, but last week's 18-9 win over Ireland was the best first Test of the season in the past decade and it was all down to the fitness of the players.
When they got into camp after the end of Super Rugby last year, coach Michael Cheika had two weeks to get the players ready for the first Test match.
He ran them into the ground. They were doing hill sprints and work that should have been done in January.
They simply weren't fit enough.
Cheika was looking at the longer term and the games against New Zealand three months down the track.
He said, "Righto, I am going to get these blokes and belt them", hoping that would be enough to beat Italy and Fiji.
The difference between then and last week's international opener against Ireland was the concerted effort put in by the Super Rugby teams and Cheika.
The coaches and their strength and conditioning staff have all bought into the one centralised notion of how fit and how strong the players should be and what they should be doing to ensure that's the case.
Previously all five teams were doing separate things and when the Wallabies got together, some blokes were just woefully unfit because their strength and conditioning guys weren't doing enough.
They came into last weekend's Test in peak condition.
If you are really fit you can defend with that intensity for the full 80 minutes and that's what won them the game.
Make no mistake about it, though, we will see a different Ireland in Melbourne this weekend.
Johnny Sexton is everything to them.
They showed hesitancy in nine and 10 in Brisbane.
Test rugby is so much faster than anything you will see in Super Rugby.
The Irish are used to it but for Joe Carbery it was only his third Test start.
The pace was incredible at the start and he didn't handle it well, whereas Sexton is the master. He's their touchstone.
With him back in next to Connor Murray, the Irish are a completely different vehicle.
They were never going to win last week without Sexton. They hamstrung themselves by not naming him.
This week they are a huge chance.
Murray and Sexton have been playing together for so long and their combinations out wide are awesome.
They split that up to give all the Leinster guys a bit of a break.
They are back to the team that won Leinster the competition in Europe, so they are mighty dangerous and a completely different team.
If the Wallabies are to win in Melbourne they need to improve on a few things.
What we look forward to in the second Test is for the combinations to be a lot better.
The Aussies had only two proper training runs last week.
They will have had three this week, so will be well advanced in attack as long as they can keep that intensity in defence.
Set pieces are also vital. The backline combinations are not too bad. The scrums looked good and got better as the game went on.
But in the lineout there has to be improvement.
Hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa had never thrown to Adam Coleman - he probably hadn't met him.
He's had to adjust to a different trajectory and different lifters. It was more about nerves than being technically incorrect last week.
A series win over Ireland would be a huge lift for the Wallabies.
The visitors are the second-best team in the world, the team that beat everyone, the team that really touched up England, and the only team to have beaten the All Blacks in the past few years apart from the Wallabies.
If the Wallabies win this weekend they should be regarded as the second-best team in the world, but don't expect the IRB rankings to reflect that.