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Super 14
Wallabies return to domestic duties
Scrum.com
January 5, 2009
The Western Force's James O'Connor is all smiles during a training session held at Rugby Park in Perth, Australia on June 30, 2008.
Wallabies rookie James O'Connor will be back in training with the Western Force this week © Getty Images
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Preparations for the new Super 14 season will be stepped up across Australia this week with the return of the Wallabies to their respective domestic training camps.

Luke Burgess, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Timana Tahu, Lote Tuqiri and Lachie Turner all returned to the Waratahs' training paddock on Monday and they were joined by former Wallabies forwards coach Michael Foley who will work with the side this season.

"We're really on the doorstep of the season now," said head coach Chris Hickey. "We had a really hard and productive seven weeks leading into the Christmas and New Year break and now it's time to pick that up another level.

"We're less than three weeks away from our first trial against the Reds and less than six weeks away from the start of the tournament so there's a lot to do, not much time but there's a really good feeling about the place and everyone's excited about the weeks ahead.

"The Wallabies rejoining the squad certainly know just how hard everyone has been working back here and the competition for places in the team is really going to intensify over the coming weeks."

Adam Freier, Brett Sheehan, Al Baxter, Benn Robinson and Phil Waugh will join the squad over the coming week, while Sekope Kepu and Matt Dunning are recovering from surgery.

The Waratahs play their first trial on January 24 against the Reds in Toowoomba, and their first Super 14 match against the Hurricanes on February 14.

Meanwhile in Canberra, the Brumbies' international contingent has begun arriving back at training with Ben Alexander, Mark Chisholm and Peter Kimlin joining the squad for their first session at Griffith Oval.

The remainder of the side's Australian representatives, including Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock, George Smith and new recruit Stephen Moore, will resume training next week.

Brumbies head coach Andy Friend says he's pleased with his side's condition midway through the pre-season. "We said from the outset that we wanted the Brumbies to be the fittest and strongest side in the competition and we made some serious inroads into that goal during the back end of last year," he said.

"We had a number of players recording career best fitness and strength results and our challenge is to make sure that translates to good performances and results on the field. We've got that foundation there, now we it's time to build how we want to play on top of that.

"With the remainder of the squad returning over the next week, from here on in we'll have a real focus on implementing the sort of style of rugby we want to play in 2009."

The Brumbies will play two pre-season trials - against the Hurricanes at Canberra Stadium (Friday, January 30) and the NSW Waratahs in Sydney (Thursday, February 5) before heading to Dunedin for their first season-opener against the Highlanders at Carisbrook.

Elsewhere, the Western Force's pre-season preparations have been blighted by an independent inquiry into allegations of inappropriate behaviour by coach John Mitchell who was placed on restricted duties last month.

However those restrictions were lifted on Monday allowing him to take charge of training that saw the return of their Wallabies including Drew Mitchell, David Pocock and James O'Connor. Fly-half Matt Giteau, who recently ended speculation by committing his immediate future to the Force, will be back in training next week.

"I'm contracted right through to 2011, so I feel real secure," Mitchell told reporters on Monday. "It has been a very interesting, challenging and beneficial period over the last 40 days. It is going to require all of us to pull together to be totally committed and obligated in putting our hands up moving forward as a group, and caring about each other."

The Force kick off their 2009 Super 14 preparations with a warm-up clash against the Crusaders in Perth on January 23 and the opening clash of the season sees them play host to the Blues on Friday, February 13.

The Reds are also continuing their preparations for the new season with coach Phil Mooney confident Berrick Barnes will be fit for the start of the season having recovered well from the posterior cruciate ligament suffered against Italy on the Wallabies' recent tour.

"Berrick's rehab is going really well," Mooney told the Courier Mail. "At this stage the information is that he'll be right for probably our last trial and ready to go at the start of the season. He's certainly progressing well."

However fellow Wallaby James Horwill is set to be sidelined for the big kick off with the lock battling a foot injury.

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