- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

LONDON (AP) - Two intense weeks of “fat club” at Australia’s pre-tournament training camp in the United States have been the making of Drew Mitchell as the winger eyes a place in the records book in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final.

An easing of the Wallabies’ eligibility rules regarding overseas players meant Mitchell earned a late call-up for the World Cup, despite being based in the south of France with European champion Toulon.

But that was only half the battle for Mitchell, who admitted to putting on weight because of the French lifestyle of baguettes and red wine.

To get back in the starting team, he was put on a strict training regime by Australia coach Michael Cheika - starting at the Wallabies’ training camp at the University of Notre Dame in August.

“When I first came back, I had a bit of work to do, and that was identified by Cheik and the coaching staff,” Mitchell said on Friday at a news conference ahead of the final against New Zealand. Cheika chuckled as he sat next to him.

“Myself and one of the other boys (lock Will Skelton) were singled out for some extra duties at Notre Dame, so I don’t have the fondest memories of that place. It was good to get out of there.”

Mitchell is reaping the rewards of all that hard work.

His 50-meter break in the 72nd minute of Australia’s gruelling semifinal against Argentina last Sunday set up fellow winger Adam Ashley-Cooper for his clinching try, and ensured Mitchell would be involved in the biggest game in rugby a week later.

Mitchell heads into the final in third place on the all-time list of try-scorers at World Cups, with 14. He is one behind All Blacks great Jonah Lomu and South Africa winger Bryan Habana.

It’s some turnaround for a man who thought his international career was over when he headed to France from the Waratahs in 2013. At star-studded Toulon, he has played in - and won - two European Cup titles and says he has “a more rounded view on how the game is played and how different players approach the game.”

“More than anything, I’ve got a lot more experience now compared to what I did have in tournament-type rugby,” Mitchell said. “The pressures of the (European) Cup - the pool stages and elimination games - and being able to play in some bigger games. I wasn’t too fortunate throughout my Super Rugby career to play in that type of environment.

“I’ve gained some knowledge and belief that I can go out in those big games and contribute to my team. . It’s been a tremendous experience for me.”

Mitchell will take the relaxed way of life in the south of France into Saturday’s final. He isn’t one for routines.

“I don’t have the capacity to focus for too long, so I’ll keep things pretty simple,” Mitchell said with a smile. “If I feel like eating something, I’ll eat it. If I feel like sleeping early or late, I’ll do that. When Cheik says, ‘Alright, bring it in,’ that’s when it’ll hit me.”

But New Zealand won’t be fooled by Mitchell’s easy-going approach. The All Blacks will know he may be the player they need to stifle more than anyone if the Webb Ellis Cup is to stay in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

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