Nearly every year, there is a side somewhere in the rugby world that will make a mockery of their pre-season prediction by finishing high up the table. One that springs to mind is Exeter Chiefs in the Aviva Premiership, for whom the worst was predicted after achieving promotion in 2010. After watching an alarming amount of players leave their clubs over the summer, a season of struggle was also predicted in 2012 for the Brumbies and Hurricanes.
However, six rounds in and both sides are sitting far away from the bottom of the log. In fact, despite losing narrowly at home to the Sharks last weekend, the Brumbies are sitting third in the table with three wins from their first five matches. When your squad loses not just the quality but the leadership of Rocky Elsom, Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Julian Salvi to name just four of the 13 who departed from Canberra, you fear the worst and rightly so.
Where it has gone right for the Brumbies though is that with Jake White at the helm, the basic defensive and set-piece systems have been practiced to the most precise detail, ensuring the Brumbies have had consistent possession. On top of that, their young players have started to break through. Joe Tomane in particular grabbed the headlines against the Cheetahs with his brace of tries, but a really important figure has been young openside Michael Hooper.
In an area where Australia lack specialists behind David Pocock, Jake White has tipped the 20 year old to make his Wallaby debut this year. If he continues putting in performances like the one he produced against the Sharks, making 26 tackles and endless turnovers, then that will be a certainty.
The Hurricanes are a similar story, because when Ma’a Nonu, Andrew Hore, Rodney So’oialo and Aaron Cruden left amid whispers that Mark Hammett was destroying the club from within, they looked a dead cert for bottom spot. Yet here they are in mid-table after the first few rounds, with three away wins out of four under their belt.
Conrad Smith, Cory Jane and Victor Vito have all stepped up, but it has been young Beauden Barrett at fly-half who has really caught the eye. An excellent kicker, the 20 year old has remarkable pace as this try will testify:
Both sides have a tough run of games coming up, with the Canes taking on the Sharks and Crusaders and the Brumbies travelling to Pretoria, but if they can keep their good start going the 2012 season will finish up far better than expected for these two underdogs.
by Ben Coles