FINALISTS for the last two years, the Brumbies have subsequently been knocked out in the first round of the Super Rugby playoffs by New Zealand franchises.
But after limping through to the finals last year, there’s a fresh and revitalised look about the Brumbies in 2018.
Former coach Stephen Larkham has joined the Wallabies full-time as an assistant which has seen his former right hand man Dan McKellar elevated to the Brumbies’ head coaching role.
The former Queensland prop might be a rookie head coach, but he’s assembled an impressive team around him with forwards specialist Laurie Fisher returning after three years at Gloucester and former Waratah Peter Hewat joining as the club’s backs coach.
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THE SPLASH! Rugby scribes Sam Worthington and Christy Doran tell you everything you need to know for the new Super Rugby season
In the playing group, meanwhile, the Brumbies have been bolstered by the full-time services of inspirational playmaker Christian Lealiifano, and star flanker David Pocock is also back in Canberra — albeit recovering from minor knee surgery.
The returning duo give the Brumbies more potency both offensively and defensively, but their presence won’t just benefit the club on the field.
Off the field, too, their leadership and experience will prove invaluable.
The Brumbies also boast the best tight five in Australia, with four of the five likely starters Wallabies.
Inside centre Kyle Godwin holds the key for the Brumbies’ backline and, if he can stay fit, will provide the perfect link player between Lealiifano and the rest of the backs.
Here’s our Super Rugby Spotlight on the Brumbies as we count down to their season opener against the Sunwolves on Saturday.
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THE BRUMBIES SQUAD
Props: Allan Alaalatoa, Ben Alexander, Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, Nic Mayhew, Scott Sio, Mees Erasmus, Faalelei Sione
Hookers: Josh Mann-Rea, Robbie Abel, Folau Fainga’a
Locks: Richie Arnold, Blake Enever, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Darcy Swain
Back-row: Tom Cusack, Rob Valetini, Lachlan McCaffrey, Lolo Fakaosilea, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Ben Hyne
Scrumhalves: Joe Powell, Matt Lucas, Ryan Lonergan
Fly halves: Christian Lealiifano, Wharenui Hawera, Mack Hansen
Centres: Jordan Jackson-Hope, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Andrew Smith
Outside backs: Tom Banks, James Dargaville, Chance Peni, Henry Speight, Lausii Taliauli, James Verity-Amm, Andrew Muirhead
THE OFF-SEASON INS AND OUTS
IN: Mees Erasmus, Folau Fainga’a, Richie Arnold, Darcy Swain, Lachie McCaffrey, David Pocock, Isi Naisarani, Matt Lucas, Chance Peni, Mack Hansen, James Verity-Amm
OUT: Saia Fainga’a, Tom Staniforth, Chris Alcock, Scott Fardy, Jordan Smiler, Jarrad Butler, Tomas Cubelli, De Wet Roos, Nick Jooste, Isaac Thompson, Anthony Fainga’a, Nigel Ah Wong, Aidan Toua
THE BEST XV: Tom Banks, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Chance Peni, Christian Lealiifano, Joe Powell, Isi Naisarani, David Pocock, Rob Valetini, Sam Carter, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Josh Mann-Rea, Scott Sio
The tight five essentially picks itself, but Folau Fainga’a could start to put some pressure on veteran hooker Josh Mann-Rea throughout the season.
With David Pocock on the comeback trail after an off-season clean up on his knee, former Leicester Tigers backrower Lachlan McCaffrey could well start the season at openside flanker.
The departure of Scott Fardy has left the blindside role open, too, which exciting young talent Rob Valetini could well fill.
Wharenui Hawera and Matt Lucas provide competent backup in the halves, giving the Brumbies an edge over their Australian rivals.
THE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
They’ve gone under the radar in the off-season, but the Brumbies should be buoyant about their chances in 2018.
They topped the Australian conference without Pocock and Lealiifano last year and the forward pack has been further strengthened by the arrival of 2017 Force MVP Isi Naisarani, who is one of the most exciting talents in Australian rugby.
McKellar, too, has spoken of his desire to turn the Brumbies into an attacking threat, after years of being pigeonholed as a set-piece oriented side.
“We’ve been focusing on it for a while now, but certainly this preseason we’ve changed the way we want to play the game,” McKellar told foxsports.com.au last month.
“If you think of the Brumbies over the last few years — certainly while I’ve been here over the past four years — we’ve been known for our lineout, our maul, our breakdown and our defence, so we’ve identified that we need to score more tries.
“To do that, we’ll tweak how we’ll play the game and certainly make sure we’re more threatening from unstructured situations and transition.”
The return of Fisher as the side’s forwards coach will also benefit the Brumbies and Australian rugby as a whole.
THE REASONS FOR CONCERN
For a long time the Brumbies — with the exception of last year — have had one of the strongest rosters going without being able to go from title pretenders to contenders.
Shaking that tag won’t be easy.
The Brumbies will be also hoping that Kyle Godwin stays fit and healthy after a shocking run of injuries throughout his career.
The 25-year-old, who made his debut for the Wallabies in 2016, has a vital role in changing the way the Brumbies attack in 2018.
Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Sunwolves (away)
Round 3: Reds (away)
Round 4: Rebels (away)
Round 5: Sharks (home)
Round 6: Bye
Round 7: Waratahs (home)
Round 8: Reds (home)
Round 9: Highlanders (away)
Round 10: Jaguares (home)
Round 11: Crusaders (home)
Round 12: Bye
Round 13: Rebels (home)
Round 14: Lions (away)
Round 15: Bulls (away)
Round 16: Sunwolves (home)
Round 17: Hurricanes (home)
Round 18: Chiefs (away)
Round 19: Waratahs (away)
T HE ODDS
To win the Australian conference: $2.90
To win the title: $21
First in the Australian conference.
The Brumbies’ forward pack is exceptional and they now have some depth in the halves and the experience of Lealiifano.
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