The Brumbies have featured in a handful of semi-finals and walked away with the title twice, but all that occurred nearly a decade ago. Last year they entered the Super Rugby competition as a “nameless” unit considered to consist of “rejects”, but they surely shrugged off that notion as they turned out to be the biggest surprise of the year.
The Brumbies suffered no great upsets during the off-season, apart from Michael Hooper’s departure, of course; but with the key arrival of David Pocock, it is easy to overlook that little detail. Jake White has a tendency to make lemonade when dealt lemons and this year will be no different.
Pocock’s abilities at the breakdown are well known and all indications from the warm-up match against the ACT XV suggest that he will have a more expansive role that involves a lot more running and ball carrying.
The 2007 World Cup winning coach is a man with a plan and he has no shortage of tricks up his sleeve. Not only did he manage to convince the retired Clyde Rathbone to pull himself together and get fit for selection again, but with his keen eye for talent also spotted a very handy lock in the Lions camp and lured Etienne Oosthuizen down under with the prospects of a chance to don a Wallaby jersey come the 2015 World Cup.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Rathbone’s return, openly fuelled by White, and after sterling performances in both warm-up matches, dotting down 3 times, Rattlebone’s got the nod for a start in Round 1 against the Reds, which will coincidentally also earn him his 50th Brumbie cap.
My mouth literally starts watering when I look at the Brumbies squad, and for a South African it is very unsettling to have such fond feeling towards any Australian team. Not even my personal dislike of the pilfering Pocock has put a dampener on my excitement about the team and that must have something to do with the fact that Jake is my all-time favourite coach. (For the record, it still baffles me that politics in South African rugby actually led to him being shown the door after winning a World Cup. Idiots!)
You won’t see a host of Wallabies when the Brumbies run on the field, but boy oh boy are there some talented young men in Canberra! Most of the names in the line-up probably won’t invoke fear in their opponents, but I’ll tell you one thing, when these guys sync, it’s like witnessing a meteor showing when the moon is full. All they need to do is protect their own ball and pounce on anything loose. With a guy like Pocock lurking around the fringes and all the speed, strength and elusiveness they boast along the backline, any turnover situation will be spell trouble for defenders.
Laeliifano, for my money, is the perfect flyhalf with his all-round abilities. There’s not a thing the boy can’t do well; he breaks thought tackles, yet rarely slips the ones he makes; he draws defenders, offloads perfectly and can regularly place the ball between the posts. He’s dangerous every time he touches the ball.
They have real pace out wide in Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight and Joe Tomane. The trio has a track record for slicing through the defense with strong running; however, Mogg and Speight look a bit sketchy when on the delivering side of tackles. And don’t forget comeback kid Clyde!
The midfielders are well able to make and break tackles, and this is where I’d field Tomane in combination with Andrew Smith instead of Pat McCabe.
At the front things aren’t nearly as electrifying as at the back, but they do boast a full Wallaby front row, the very versatile Big Ben Mowen – their nearly faultless captain – and the aforementioned Pocock.
According to the skipper, that stinging 36-14 mishap against the Blues in the final costly round is still fresh in the memory. The players are now using it as a barometer to ensure standards are kept up at all the times in order to prevent having any such slip-ups this year.
I feel rather confident in saying that I expect them to top the Australian conference and thereby claim the 3rd spot on the overall log. Beware they don’t go all the way this time around as they are becoming an increasingly threatening side under the tutelage of the motivational Jake White.
by Jackie Smit