Comprehensively written off by yours truly at the beginning of the season, the Brumbies are enjoying a brilliant Super Rugby campaign thus far. Five wins from 9 is more than people would have expected back in February and key to their success have been the performances of their rising stars.
Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Giteau, Julian Salvi, Rocky Elsom and many more left the Brumbies squad over the summer, taking with them big reputations and an enormous amount of experience. Even new captain Ben Mowen nicknamed his side the “no-name” Brumbies. What he of course knew at the time is that within the newly assembled squad, there were a host of young talents impressing behind the scenes.
Two in particular though look set to become Wallabies in the near future. The first is Michael Hooper, who will join the NSW Waratahs next season in a move that now appears to be a backwards step in his development. Hooper’s work-rate at the breakdown has caught the eye, so in an area where behind David Pocock the Wallabies are a little light, this guy could be the man to challenge the Western Force talisman for seasons to come.
The two other names in the pack who have played starring roles so far are new captain Mowen, and second row Sam Carter. Mowen made his name in Sydney with the Waratahs over the last two seasons, but the added responsibility of leading such a young Brumbies side has brought out the best of him. Carter on the other hand has bided his time in the Brumbies development system before emerging this season – he’s not hard to miss either at nearly 6ft 7. With Jake White’s emphasis on a secure set-piece – and the Brumbies are blessed with a world-class hooker in Stephen Moore – Carter’s aerial work has been essential.
The talent hasn’t just been found in the forwards though. When you’re labelled the new Joe Roff in the Canberra area, there is arguably no greater accolade. Jesse Mogg scored a try and was Man of the Match in the opening game of the season against the Western Force, impressing not only with his speed but also his excellent kicking ability off both feet. A potential Wallaby debut awaits this summer, which is more than you would have thought was possible for Christian Lealifano a few years ago.
The Brumbies fly-half was always overshadowed by Matt Giteau over the past few seasons, but appears to be relishing the responsibility of being an experienced head in a young backline. With James O’Connor crocked and Quade Cooper not yet recovered, Lealifano could end up playing behind Berrick Barnes this summer in the Test series against Wales. Other who have also stepped up include Nic White, Joe Tomane and Henry Speight.
The fact that the Brumbies are third on the log, the only Australian side in the top six halfway through this year’s tournament, is a touch extraordinary. Their current position is a credit to the hard work of not just Jake White, but also backs coach Stephen Larkham and the input from consultants Eddie Jones and George Gregan. Combining that knowledge and pride in Brumbies rugby – plus the leadership of their current Wallabies in Moore, Ben Alexander and the outstanding Pat McCabe – means that based on what we’ve seen so far, the Brumbies should certainly be in contention for the playoffs, and Australia Conference champions.
by Ben Coles