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Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
Wallabies v British & Irish Lions
Wallabies 'cocooned in Caloundra'
Greg Growden
June 13, 2013
Ben Mowen hits the tackle bag during a Wallabies training session, Hunter's Hill, Sydney, June 7, 2013
Ben Mowen (centre) and his Wallabies team-mates have been hitting plenty of tackle bags lately © Getty Images
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When international teams lose, one excuse often used is that the side was "under-done".

However if the Wallabies stumble during the British & Irish Lions series, you won't hear them trotting out that line because it would be a clear admission they have blundered.

While Wallabies coach Robbie Deans is mightily relieved he has his 31 top men hidden away in camp for several weeks, where he can drill into them exactly what is required to overcome the Lions, there is an enormous downside to being "cocooned in Caloundra".

The players lose their match fitness; their edge. Footballers often talk about the importance of being involved in matches on a regular basis, and how it keeps them physically and mentally attuned.

Being involved in training camps, opposed practices, team meetings and endless pow-wows is fine and dandy, and gives the team management a chance to justify themselves. But it can dull the athlete. The confines of a camp, where everything is conducted to a precise timetable, can lead to a mind-numbing Groundhog Day effect. The players often grow stale.

It also leads to a worrying situation where the Wallabies, when they confront the Lions for the first time in Brisbane on June 22, will not have played for weeks.

One of the Wallabies key performers, Kurtley Beale, is there on the strength of a solitary appearance for Randwick in a Sydney Shute Shield match. James O'Connor, who is supposed to be the first-choice No. 10, has hardly been sighted this year. This is far from ideal.

The Australian squad also has its fair share of players needing a proper run to show they have adequately overcome their injuries. Training runs can camouflage problems. Test matches don't, and the Wallabies run the risk of selecting players, who say they are alright, but may break down early when confronted by something far more threatening than a tackle bag.

As exasperating has been the sight of Wallabies players in suits on the sidelines at key Lions tour matches who, if playing, would have made a difference. A good way to destabilise a touring team is for them suffer a loss in the lead up to a Test match. That could have easily happened if the Queensland Reds had Will Genia, James Horwill, Rob Simmons and Liam Gill running around against the Lions last weekend.

One can comprehend key players being rested a week out from a Test, but a fortnight or more is pushing it.

No wonder Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has laughed off claims that the Lions were the "underdone" team. "They're playing games, Australia is the team not playing games," Cheika said.

You can see why Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and Wallabies officials, covering their bases, were recently going on about the Lions having the better preparation. Well, don't castigate the Lions for that. While the Wallabies remain in spectator mode, with their most stressful duty involving checking their timetable to find out what camp-fire meeting they next have to attend, the tourists are taking advantage of using their lead-up matches to harden up and ensure they select the right Test combinations.

The ARU has to take some of the blame, because they should have ensured their players were involved in at least one serious game before the Brisbane Test.

Wallabies in lockdown as first Test against British & Irish Lions approaches
© ESPN Australia / New Zealand
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