The Brumbies head into 2019 without the fanfare of other sides during the off-season and are hoping they can continue with the form that saw them end 2018 with four wins from five games. They have also won their two pre-season trials against the Rebels and Waratahs.
There are number of questions for head coach Dan McKellar in the make up of the match day 23 for 2019 as the team has gone about building depth in some areas with the backrow, inside centre and wing positions up for grabs with some handy names in contention. The pre-season form of Tevita Kuridrani was particularly impressive and his first pre-season in six years has certainly been beneficial to him as looks very fit and has bagged four tries in those two matches.
There has been a big turnover in the prop ranks with four players leaving but the big acquisition of James Slipper will go a long way to making up for those losses. Combined with some up and comers like Vunipola Fifita and Tom Ross putting their hand up when the likely squad rotation/rest for the Wallabies World Cup players of Scott Sio and Allan Alaalatoa kicks in, whenever that is.
The backrow spots will be watched closely with whoever misses out likely to be a starter elsewhere. The loss of Isi Naisirani to Melbourne has been cancelled out with the signing of Pete Samu from the Crusaders and hopefully he can bring that Crusaders form into the Brumbies jersey.
David Pocock will start and when he’s told from HQ to have a rest, Tom Cusack could walk in there and his time off from the NRC to sort out his body for Super Rugby has done him a world of good if the Rebels trial form is anything to go by. You can’t discount Lachlan McCaffrey either with whoever getting the nod, not likely to let the team down.
Rob Valetini had big hopes for 2018 but his season was cut short by injury so he can stay out of team rehab, he could be in for a big year and put his name on the radar for World Cup selection later in the year.
Unfortunately for Ben Hyne, his season ended during pre-season with the dreaded injury curse striking again as he tore his ACL
In the backs, the form of Irae Simone and Tom Wright in the two pre-season trials gives the Brumbies optimism for finding some spark and these two will more than likely fight it out with Wharenui Hawera to partner Christian Lealiifano.
The wing spots have five contenders for two starting positions and the signing of Toni Pulu from the Chiefs adding to the likes of Chance Peni, Lausii Taliauli, Andy Muirhead and Henry Speight, fresh from a stint with Ulster.
On field changes
For this year, the Brumbies have gone with a single captaincy setup with Christian Lealiifano taking sole responsibility. In recent years they’ve had a co-captaincy arrangement with Lealiifano and Sam Carter the leaders.
Off field changes
There’s been some changes in the assistant coaching ranks. Most notably defence coach Peter Ryan has headed North to link up with the Queensland Reds so that sees Laurie Fisher take on that role in addition to his forwards coaching role.
Former Brumby Ruaidhri Murphy will team up with Dan Palmer to oversee the scrums for 2019.
With the squad they’ve assembled, the Brumbies should be pushing for the finals in 2019 with the recruitment of some experienced players and some talented up and comers. However, there’s a few questions. When will the Wallabies players be asked to rest? There have been discussions with Michael Cheika about this and it should be sorted and this will test the depth of the squad but they seem more than up to the task.
The draw is reasonably kind and get the Chiefs and Hurricanes out of the way early, and somehow manage to play the Rebels twice in the first four games. The month of March has them playing all their conference rivals and this could set them up before a big run of four games against the Crusaders, Lions, Stormers and Jaguares, with three of those on the road.
The one Achilles for them could be goal kicking which has been a bit inconsistent in recent years. Lealiifano is likely get first crack but after him it’s not certain who the backup is, especially if Hawera doesn’t start as his starting place is under threat.
Murray Douglas (Hurricanes, NZ)
Vunipola Fifita (Vikings NRC)
Len Ikitau (Vikings NRC)
Bayley Kuenzle (Southern Districts)
Noah Lolesio (Vikings NRC)
Toni Pulu (Chiefs, NZ)
Tom Ross (Vikings NRC)
Pete Samu (Crusaders, NZ)
Irae Simone (NSW Waratahs)
James Slipper (Queensland Reds)
Tom Wright (Manly-NRL)
Robbie Abel (Melbourne Rebels)
Ben Alexander (Retired)
Richie Arnold (Toulouse, France)
James Dargaville (Released)
Mees Erasmus (Melbourne Rebels)
Lolo Fakaosilea (Kintetsu Liners, Japan)
Kyle Godwin (Connacht, Ireland)
Nic Mayhew (Yorkshire Carnegie, UK)
Faalelei Sione (Released)
Andrew Smith (Retired)
James Verity-Amm (Released)
15 February vs Rebels (H)
23 February vs Chiefs (H)
1 March vs Hurricanes (A)
8 March vs Rebels (A)
15 March vs Waratahs (H)
24 March vs Reds (A)
6 April vs Crusaders (A)
13 April vs Lions (H)
20 April vs Stormers (A)
28 April vs Jaguares (A)
4 May vs Blues (H)
12 May vs Sunwolves (H)
24 May vs Bulls (H)
1 June vs Sunwolves (A)
8 June vs Waratahs (A)
15 June vs Reds (H)