Brumbies mid-season report - Green and Gold Rugby
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Brumbies mid-season report

Brumbies mid-season report

We’re past halfway in the 2011 SupeRugby season, and it’s time to have a look at how the Brumbies have fared so far.

They boasted a competitive roster coming into 2011, but it’s fair to say the Brumbies have massively underachieved in a season that, once again, promised so much and has delivered very little.

With only two wins to date — and unconvincing ones at that — the Brumbies have sputtered their way from week to week. Nobody has been debating whether they’ll win or lose; instead, the critics are asking “how much will they get beaten by this week?”

So let’s break it down and try to analyse why the Brumbies have reached this low point.

COACHING

Former coach Andy Friend with new coach Tony Rea

There had been rumours of discontent within the ranks relating to a misunderstanding between the players and head coach Andy Friend during the pre-season. Adjustments had been made to clear things up, including the appointment of Stephen Larkham to the panel of assistant coaches, but the wheels finally fell off after the Round 2 loss to the Rebels in Melbourne.

Friend was summoned to the table by CEO Andrew Fagan and given his marching orders, and defensive coach Tony Rea was installed in his place for the remainder of the season.Since that point the Brumbies have had just one win – an unimpressive 1-point victory over the struggling Hurricanes – and seven defeats.

Late in April the news broke that Fagan had secured former Springbok coach Jake White’s services for 2012 and beyond (more on that shortly). It’s good news in the longer term, but it can only have undermined Rea’s status and made it that much harder for him to direct and drive the players for the remainder of his tenure.

FORWARDS

The Brumbies still boast an all-Wallaby front row and the scrum has put on some good displays at times. The question of which side of the scrum to play Ben Alexander on has been raised again, and not resolved. It’s an issue that could be detrimental to his Wallaby career in this World Cup year. New recruit Dan Palmer has been a revelation at tight-head. He’s been promoted above Wallaby Salesi Ma’afu and has shown experience beyond his years in that position.

Second-rowers Mark Chisholm and Ben Hand have been a little below their best, sometimes struggling to make an impact in the big games. The injuries to Mitchell Chapman, who runs the lineout calls, and to hookers Stephen Moore and Huia Edmonds, have hampered the lineout and taken away one of the Brumbies’ traditional strengths.

For me, however, the big find has been No. 8 Ita Vaea, who was actually a surprise inclusion in the senior ranks when injury ruled out captain Stephen Hoiles for the early part of the season. The Tongan’s strong running reminds everyone of Toutai Kefu and has been one of the few highlights this season.

Peter Kimlin has been playing himself into form after missing most of the last 18 months with a variety of injuries. His showing against the Cheetahs was one of his best performances and he’ll be pushing for a starting spot for the rest of 2011.

Injuries have sidelined the other key loose forwards: Hoiles and Rocky Elsom are expected to miss the rest of the season. Hoiles managed to play about 40 minutes, while Elsom hasn’t even donned his Brumbies colours this year. The absence of these experienced heads has been very obvious and very costly at times.

BACKS

The Brumbies backline has been a shadow of its former glorious self this year, even with Wallabies Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper in leadership roles and favourite son Larkham involved as attack coach.

Giteau: stepping up to leadership

Giteau has had his fair share of critics and the debate over his best position is unending, but it must be said that he has been one of the better performers, and has really tried to get his team firing. He could have been a passenger after announcing his move to Toulon after this season but he’s still giving 100 per cent. But it appears that the burden of being the captain, goal-kicker and playmaker has been hindering his play. The fact that there seems to be a different player outside him each week hasn’t helped either.

Ashley-Cooper’s role in the sacking of Andy Friend brought him some scrutiny and criticism that he would have preferred to avoid, and then his protracted contract negotiations seemed to prey on his mind and affect his play. The flair and impact that the Earl put on show for the Wallabies in the 2010 EOYT seem a distant memory, and he’s another player whose best position and attack role have been rendered uncertain by numerous shifts around the backline. He’s heading to the Waratahs in 2012, bringing to an end a Brumby career that started in 2004.

The lack of any other big-name backline players could be hurting the Brumbies. There are some very talented junior players in the squad but perhaps it was recognised that throwing them into SupeRugby too early could hurt their chances and confidence.

Robbie Coleman surprised a few with his early season form but he has dropped off the radar since the opening rounds. He could definitely be one for the future; at this stage he can serve as an impact player coming off the bench to use his pace against a tiring opposition.

Christian Lealiifano and Matt Toomua were signed with a view to the future but have both had indifferent seasons so far. Their abilities were recognised during the middle of the season when the Brumbies deployed the experimental ‘tri-halves’ system that put the pair of them and Giteau in the starting XV, all sharing the playmaker role.

THE FUTURE

The main goals for the rest of the Super season can only be to save face and maintain morale. The Brumbies will be looking to win two or three more games and will be particularly keen to redeem their standing in the Australian conference, having been kicked around by the other four sides in the derbies.

To achieve these aims there must be more stability in the team, particularly with the starting XV selections. There has been so much chopping and changing in key positions that no effective combinations have been established. Injuries have necessitated some of those changes but many others have been arbitrary and ineffectual. Players thrive on confidence and being shifted from last week’s starting spot never feels like a reward.

With finals hopes long gone the coaching staff will be appraising the entire roster with a view to their value in the future. Everyone in the squad bar the departing players will need to show their best work ahead of the arrival of Jake White in 2012. And those departing players will be hoping they have an appointment with Robbie Deans in another month or so…

Taking over the reins in 2012

Getting back to Jake White: the club pulled off a triumph by securing the services of a World Cup-winning coach for the next four years. White’s reputation and track record suggest he’s the off-field leader the Brumbies need to guide them back to Super success.

But the recruitment of on-field leadership is an urgent priority. The departures of Giteau, Ashley-Cooper and Chapman will leave huge gaps, and if rumours of Elsom and Hoiles moving on are true, that problem will only get worse.

On the plus side, the Brumbies will retain the big-match experience of Alexander and Moore, and Palmer’s rise will only continue if he can form a fruitful partnership with those two hardheads. For Lealiifano, Toomua and the rest of the young brigade, White’s arrival could be the making of their careers — or the breaking.

This coming weekend the Brumbies play the Lions at home with the remaining fixtures against the Force (away), then host the Stormers, then it’s the Reds (away), the Rebels (home) and the Waratahs (away). It adds up to a tough ending to a tough season.

  • Jimmy

    Here is a tip….the departure of Giteau (Australias most self obsessed player) will assist the Brumbies next year. Getting rid of that spoilt brat with a losing culture will not only be good for Brumby Rugby but also for Australian Rugby.

    • Barbarian

      What uninformed rubbish. By all means criticise his on field play, but calling him ‘australia’s most self-obsessed player’ and ‘a spoiled brat’? Have you ever met the guy?

      I have never met Gits, nor have 99% of people who comment here, yet a large percentage seem content to put the boot into the guy’s personality purely based on what they pick up on TV. It gives me the colossal shits.

      In reality he has been playing bloody well this year and is one of the few things that have kept them from being wooden-spoon easybeats.

      • Brumby Jack

        Well said Barbarian!

        Giteau has found himself in uncharted waters this year through no fault of his own and has been thrown in the deep end in terms of the captaincy. His two other leadership group members have played a total of 40 minutes all season and has had to shoulder a huge load.

        Those who have held this position before have had the luxury of other ‘wise heads’ to help lead the way but with a younger team and less experience this year it hasn’t exactly gone to plan.

        I don’t think his on field commitment can be questioned this year and an example of this was playing on after being knocked out early in the Sharks game on the weekend.

        He could have easily ‘clocked off’ after making the decision to move to France after this year but has given 100% towards the Brumbies and this shows true professionalism in my opinion.

        • Skip

          It’s got to be said, I was among the critics of Gits’ form and ‘cos of his role in “Player-power” but he has pulled his socks up and delivered some good performances. Under the type of pressure he was, it’s to his credit. I do think he ought to reflect on why he isn’t the test captain though and how he handelled that – or allowed the media to perceive he did.

          I’ve never described him personally as an arse, I doubt he is. It’s not like he leaves “fire up bitch!” phone messages or takes piss wherever the urge grabs him but his form was off. Now he’s playing into some, knocking his goals over (is he??), he’s shown why he got 90 odd caps.

  • Nutta

    I don’t know Gits

    He has a proud record and has talent obviously. I thank him for the tries, the goals and the wins over the years

    But I can see elements of his record to be dubious of or disappointed in – especially the 3 provincial moves and 3 sacked coaches – and can’t help but wonder at the influence/interference of a big name player in those sort of escapades (it’s not as though he was a mid-level player thus removed from “leadership” conversations and groups).

    A players job is to play. Not convene coup de tat. Cui bono ? Certainly not “the Team”

    I understand that Rocky had a fair bit to do with Friends punting, but I cannot accept that Gits didn’t need to wash his hands afterwards.

    And his very public dummy-spit of not getting the Wobbly VC job last year still rankles me. Captaincy or Vice Captaincy of our national team is not an entitlement or right for anyone. And by default it also means I cannot accept that “the pressures” of leading the Donkeys are contributing to his on-field performances. “You wanted leadership, well here it is. So deal with it”. And so we ask “Well, how well has he dealt with it?” Hmmm…

    As my dad used to always say – “Be careful what you ask for Boy because you just might get it!”

    So thanks for the memories Mr Giteau. It’s probably good timing you go to France shortly before it all ends in (more) tears

    • Robson

      I don’t know Gits either, but notwithstanding personality issues it’s sometimes a good thing to have a clean out of the old guard in any organisation. It gives the new coach a fresh sheet to work from and I think that has more positives than negatives in this situation. I hope the new coach and a fresh page at the Brumbies will bring alive the enthusiasm, creativity and winning style that I once admired the Brumbies so much for.

    • Barbarian

      How has he dealt with the leadership? Bloody well I reckon, he is playing some of the best rugby of his career. Yes the Brumbies are losing games but it isn’t due to a lack of leadership or poor performances from Gits.

      • Nutta

        You are entitled to your view Barbarian. Fair enough

        But I side with Plato who said “The actions of soldiers are reflections of their generals”

        See the Donkeys tried to set themselves apart by being so inclusive of the player power element. It was not the usual Coach is Boss set-up. The responsibility was shared out to include the players and especially the leadership group. So players had authority. But with authority must come accountability for that authority too.

        The leadership of Friend was held to account over poor team performance was it not? For right or wrong, he was blamed nonetheless. So if that benchmark has been set, then what is good for the goose is good for the gander and Gits leadership must be held to the same benchmark.

        He wanted it. He got it. Now he must answer for it.

        I can hear my dad now – “Boy, be careful what you ask for…”

      • Ruggo.

        Giteau has realised that he does not have to do everything and just focus on the role he plays within the team. This has been the key for him and he is much better for it. I think that is why he had trouble playing with Quade last year. Sometimes his efforts have been misguided but he is a resilient little bugger and he never stops trying on the field. That has to say something for his character.

  • mudskipper

    Many of the loses have been within a few points. The fact that the Brumbies have been running with without key players has made a enormous difference. With Elsom and Hoiles not playing it has left the squad two short. They’re playing with a core squad of 27-28 with many players who I’d cast as S15 rookies Faingaa, Hooper, Vaea, Speight, Wara, Owen, Coleman, White, A. Smith and Palmer. While all have potential they lack S15 experience. The recruiting has been poor over recent years as they Brumbies have no large forwards to replace the injured Wallabies and no solid finishers. That’s has Brumbies HQ been doing in regards to recruiting? I must say Speight was beginning to show some promise.

    AACs under performance has been astounding. He playing like his been told not to hurt himself. He isn’t going into contact with his normal vigour and appears to be going easy to avoid injury to reap the RWC year’s rewards. He isn’t looking for work and only does it when it comes to him. Very disappointing ACC is putting his self interests before the team…I suspect he has taken very poor advice.

    • AJ

      You can’t underestimate the loss of G. Smith and Mortlock (and to an extent Huxley) in the downfall. All old, wise heads who know how to win, and with Hoiles and Elsom out, there are precious few to lead by example.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some old heads being hunted for next year.

  • Newter

    Giteau’s commitment isn’t in question, because he always runs hard and puts in good low tackles. But does he exude confidence, and calm under pressure? Does he know how to manage people? Really, Giteau is not a leader’s arsehole.

  • The Mad Mailman

    There’s rumors that Rocky’s leaving the Brumbies?

    Where are these rumors coming from and where is (or might he be) he going?

  • chasmac

    Giteau and Cooper did not form a good partnership in the Wallabies because they did not complement each other. 1+1 < 2. Giteau's game was the most effected as he only got 2nd use of the ball, and was cut passed alot. IMO he struggled mentally to deal with this, 80 caps v's 10 – 15 caps etc. It did seem that his game was put off because of the role he was asked to play ( similar to JOC V's waratahs last weekend). Giteau at his best is definitely a Wallaby starter. Giteau outside Cooper doesn't seem to yield Giteau at his best though.
    Jake White is a positive move, obviously he has a big challenge to get the results that the public expect / demand. I am not sure that player power is compatible with Jake Whites modus operandi. Further to that, it will be interesting to see if Larkham, Harrison, Paul, Kafer et al are used in any technical roles; Do you have an opinion on that BJ ? Probably no decisions made there yet.
    Good luck to the brumbies, I hope they can start delivering on their massive potential, if not for the rest of this year then at least in the 2012 campaign.
    Aussie rugby is in good hands next year with some very high quality coaches at S15 level.

  • bazaar

    Rocky Tahs, JOC Rebels

    gits is a top bloke. so are quade cooper, brett sheehan and danny cipriani

  • Bones

    Why doesn’t Giteau just play 9? He has the perfect physique and skills for the position, he would be the perfect backup for Genia and the only player who could really challenge for his spot, and he would get to play inside Cooper- so he could control the play and cut-pass Cooper if he wanted!! The only reason he does not play 9 can be his ego- he wants to be the gloryboy 10.

  • Jay

    At least Gits is still putting in – AAC hasn’t looked like he has cared all season. I hope he carries the same attitude at the ‘tahs.

  • lee enfield

    I just hope giteau isn’t in the wallaby starting 15.

  • Who Needs Melon

    Jeez this could have been a two word article: They’re fucked.

  • sumo

    what happend to Jerry Yanuyanutawa? How the hell is he not being used? is politics really that bad?

    i mean the season is over just give the other guys a chance for heavens sake,

    they could surprise us. Alexander needs a rest. they have to try a new combination.

    c’MON BRUMBIES Have some pride and get rid of Tony rea, gits and old tossers who started the mutiny on Friend.

  • sumo

    Jerry, Nic White, Samu Wara need a cahnce to shine.

    Man you gotta feel for Jerry, playing 2nd grade for Sydney uni but is too good for that. named in the 2011 squad but brumbies coah bring a loser(Jono Owen)who can’t do crap a debut spot.brumbies can’t see that

    OWEN SUCKS. Ma’afu is one trick pony only used for scrums. can’t be mobile

    Jerry is being eyed by Europe clubs according to Fiji news if he represents Fiji this world cup

    he should take it coz definately sumo, the politics in the brumbies camp is just pathetic.

    Imean u pay him so might as well use him.

ACT Brumbies
@steve_l15

Canberra born and bred Rugby fan brought up on Canberra Kookaburra and ACT Brumbies Rugby.

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