Yep, I know the Brumbies were quarter-finalists in 2017. I know that they made a fist of it in that quarterfinal too. But we all know that by all usual measures of achievement, they should not have been in that quarterfinal! Their presence was simply a procedural qualification brought about by the weirdness that was SANZAAR’s Super 18 competition rules that allowed all conference winners a spot in the quarters.
If we look at the Brumbies position on the overall 2017 log, they finished behind all five New Zealand teams and behind 3 of the South African teams too. Ninth on the log should not qualify you for a playoff spot, ever. To make matters worse, their 34 log points was 31 points less than the log leaders, the Lions, and also 29 behind the second placed Crusaders.
Such was, and is, the strangeness of SANZAAR’s conference structure.
Stephen Larkham has left the Brumbies to take up a full-time position with the Wallaby coaching team. His replacement is Dan McKellar, a former Reds loosehead prop, who has been coaching the University of Canberra. He has also had a stint as the Brumbies’ Defence & Skills Coach, back in 2014.
Little is known of McKellar’s approach to the game at the higher levels, although he has had some success at the premier grade game in Australia. We will be watching his progress closely, especially his tactical and strategic preferences.
The Brumbies kick off their season with a Round 1 bye. Their next three fixtures are away from home, with a trip to Tokyo to face the Sunwolves followed by visits to the Reds and the Rebels. They return home to play the Sharks, and then have their second bye of the season.
There is simply no logic that can explain a bye in Round One, and then another in Round Six! Thanks, SANZAAR!
After the bye, the Brumbies stay at home for two weeks, playing the Waratahs and then the Reds, before heading to Aotearoa (look it up!) to play the Highlanders. They head straight back home again, and play the Jaguares and then the Crusaders, before enjoying another bye, before playing the Rebels, at home in Canberra.
They head off to South Africa in Round 14 to play the Lions, and then go on to visit the Bulls. They head straight back home again to play the Sunwolves and then the Hurricanes, both in Canberra, before going back across to the land of long white clouds to face the Chiefs, then straight back to OZ to finish their season visiting the Waratahs in Sydney.
Despite their first three games being away from home, this is a very comfortable fixture list.
A couple of last year’s squad have moved on, most tellingly Scott Fardy has gone to Leinster, while Thomas Cubelli has gone back to the Argentine and the Jaguares. Others who left include Jarrad Butler, Nigel Ah Wong, Chris Alcock, Jordan Smiler, and Tom Staniforth, who has joined the Waratahs.
The Brumbies have brought in Richie Arnold, Isi Naisarani, Chance Peni, and James Verity-Amm, all from the Force, Matt Lucas joined from the Waratahs, while Lachlan McCaffery arrived from the Leicester Tigers. In addition, they have signed a couple of rookies from Australian provincial ranks.
Iconic flanker, David Pocock also returns to the squad after some time out of the game. His return has been delayed a bit as he has had knee surgery, which will keep him out of the game for a month or so.
There is a core of solid players in the Brumbie ranks, the likes of Scott Sio, Ben Alexander, Rory Arnold, Blake Enever, and David Pocock, of course. They also have playmaker and general, Christian Lealiifano back in the game, along with the power of Tevita Kuridrani and the feisty Henry Speight.
Sam Carter and Christian Lealiifano have been appointed Co-Captains.
This Brumbies outfit still looks like the best in Australia.
A new coach, changes in the personnel, the availability of Christian Lealiifano, and the return of David Pocock all suggest that the Brumbies face an interesting season. How will they adapt to a new coach and his systems? Will he build on Stephen Larkham’s legacy, or will a new broom be evident?
There is an element of the unknown hovering over the Brumbies in 2018.
I would suggest they will probably still be the Aussie conference leaders at the end of the season.