ACT Brumbies 2010 Super 14 Preview
ACT Brumbies

High expectations for Brumbies in 2010!

High expectations for Brumbies in 2010!
Chelsea

Alfi Mafi congratulates Adam Ashley-Cooper on another Brumby FC goal!

I have heard the Brumbies of 2010 described as the Chelsea Football Club of Australian Rugby.  Now, I don’t follow European football, but can hazard a guess that Chelsea is renowned for purchasing their highly successful team? For creating a winning team from the cheque book up? Personally I think this is damn hard on the Brumbies.

Unless there is something I don’t know about I figure the cheque book has rarely, if ever, been the inducement to get a player to the Brumbies.  We all know the story of how they began. How Rod McQueen built a team based on the same principals of the quote that adorns the Statue of Liberty:

“”Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Well, ok, it wasn’t THAT extreme. But the initial squad was based around a number of players out to make a name for themselves, that possibly weren’t getting their opportunities elsewhere. Players like Pat Howard, David Knox, Owen Finegan, David Giffen, Brett Robinson.  And these were the core of players, along with locals such as George Gregan and Joe Roff, who would form the nucleus of a side that stand alone as the premier Australian provincial side of the professional era.

What those players, and the rest of the Brumby organisation (notably inaugural coach McQueen) created was a positive environment where players wanted to come.  Money wouldn’t be the driving force to get a player to the Brumbies. It would be about opportunity. The opportunity to play attractive rugby.   The opportunity to develop your game. The opportunity to win championships!

PM

Pat McCabe – looking for opportunities!

That’s the reason why players flock to the Brumbies.  It is the reason why they entice schoolboy stars like Matt Toomua. It’s the reason they entice long standing club players, like Andrew Smith. It is the reason they entice experienced provincial players, like Mitchell Chapman. And it is the reason they entice international super stars. Like Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom.

For it is the signings of Giteau and Elsom that the Brumbies have seemingly earned their nickname of the ‘Chelsea of the South’. But the labelling is unfair and overlooks  the likes of those other players mentioned above.  It sees names like George Smith, Chisholm, Mortlock, Ashley-Cooper alongside Gits and Rocky and automatically creates the stigma of check book rugby.

But to look at the wider squad is to see where these players have come from and what the Brumbies create within their organisation.  There are seven new players (new this year) to the Brumbies for the 2010 season. This includes Justin Harrison, a former Brumby, who was signed late as cover for the injured Peter Kimlin.

The new players range from Wallabies Giteau, Elsom and Josh Valentine, to club players Andrew Smith and Pat McCabe to local junior Jack Vanderglas.

It is a fascinating squad the Brumbies have.  A reduced number of 29 seems to be a sign of the economic times, as teams reduce squad sizes to save on the financial squeeze of having contracted players pretty much being glorified tackle bag holders.  On paper, there could be question marks as to the depth of the Brumbies in some positions, but once again this brings to light why this team is so good.

LL

Lealiifano – to pull the reverse Larkham?

Their ability to bring in replacement players, who can step into the fold so comfortably is well known.  A couple of years ago they had a centre problem of some note, and had to call on Sydney club player Leo Afeaki. He looked like a bloody test player during his time on the field. And where is he know? Back in club land, but the organisation has this ability to call in these players, and support them in their performances, empowering them to step up and play well.

This factor may well be called into question early on in the season. With Adam Ashley-Cooper the likely frontrunner for the fullback jersey, as the Wallaby incumbent, cover for the spot comes from rookies Pat McCabe and Andrew Smith. Or will it?  There has been some suggestion that young flyhalf Christian Lealiifano may spend some time at the back with the arrival of Giteau and the emergence of Toomua.

On the flank, they’re built for speed. As per most Brumby backlines, the utility value of the players is considerable so the likes of Ashley-Cooper, Mortlock and Tyrone Smith may all spend some time on the wing. However the true speedsters Alfi Mafi and Francis Fainifo should have the front running come the start of the season.  The opportunity is there for Fainifo too. He won admirers last year. Another consistent season, showing the same abilities in ’10, and Wallaby honours could be close.

The former schoolboy sensation  Afusipa Taumoepeau is another wing option.  Now I acknowledge he’s young, having only just turned 20, but I’d like to see ‘zippa’ show a bit more of his potential this year.  Some good pre-season form could see him snag a wing jersey, whilst he can also cover the outside centre spot. He showed some glimpses last year, and he hasn’t been rushed in, but now’s the time for him to step up and show his wares.

No need to do any of that in the centres where Tyrone Smith and Stirling Mortlock rule the roost.  But do they?  What coach Andy Friend does with Giteau will determine what happens to Smith.  And Mortlock? Well who knows.  He’s back training, after a calf injury ruled him out of the Wallaby’s European tour, and injuries are becoming, worryingly, more prominent.  I’d be surprised Mortlock will play every game. In fact I’d be surprised if he plays more than two thirds of them in what could very well be his farewell year.  So the utility value of the likes of Ashley-Cooper, Taumoepeau, Smith and McCabe become an important factor.

And then there’s Gits.  Matt Giteau. Where to play him? Will he be at 12 mentoring the young Lealiifano or Matt Toomua? Or will he be at 10, where he plays for the Wallabies, and was so dominant for the Force, directing his talent laden backline around? Personally, I think he’s got to be at 10. A dominant flyhalf is crucial for a championship team (07 RWC aside) and Giteau IS the best flyhalf in Australia. At provincial level at least.

Giteau’s Force half partner, Josh Valentine, will start favorite for the number 9 jersey, but will battle with the experienced Patrick Phibbs.  Phibbs had a good game last year. I seem to remember it.  Valentine’s crisp pass and quality kicking game should secure him the position though, as long as the attitude is suitably adjusted.

Moving into the pack. An area the Brumbies have historically copped some criticism. The suggestion seems to be that they play too loose, without a real set piece focus.  I’m not really convinced this was ever the case.  They have produced some of Australia’s best front rowers in the likes of Bill Young, Ben Alexander and Jeremy Paul.  Although it’s fair to say that the likes of Paul, Owen Finegan and George Smith spent their fair amount of minutes hovering around the ‘glory boys’ out wide.

From the get go we have exactly one of those players in skipper Stephen Hoiles. Hoiles is a superbly talented backrower, who likes to have the ball in his hands as much as he can.  Whilst he’s a lineout asset as well, the effectiveness of his work in tight has been called to question.  But this shouldn’t be an issue this year, particularly when you have a couple of guys by the name of Rocky Elsom and George Smith beside you.  Is there a more mobile and gifted backrow combination in the Super 14 competition? I think not. Interestingly, you have two Wallaby captains there as well, yet Hoiles has been reappointed Brumby skipper.

Young Jack Vanderglas is there this year as well, on a rookie contract. Having seen him play a bit of 7s for the Aussies, I can say he’s a bit of a goer. I look forward to seeing him get some more game time with the Brumbies this year, particularly as he is a local boy who has come through the system.

As additional backrow support there is Mitchell Chapman and Peter Kimlin. Both are recent Wallaby tourists, both are lock slash backrowers and both are physical players with some pretty handy skills around the park. Unfortunately for Kimlin, his 2010 season looks doubtful at this stage, thanks to a shoulder injury sustained on the Brumbies end of season tour last year.

Kimlin’s injury has seen the return of a long time Brumby favourite, Justin Harrison.  Googy has just finished serving an 8-month suspension from rugby for drug related charges and it will be fascinating to see what role he plays this year.  There is certainly a dearth of quality Australian locks around at the moment and Harrison is certainly an Australian lock. As to his quality? Let’s wait and see on that one shall we?

Alongside Harrison this year will be three of the same from last year.  Mark Chisholm, who had somewhat of a Wallaby resurgence and then demise in 2009, Ben Hand, who was solid and did all he was expected to do last year, and Sitaleki Timani, who is a monster of a man but is yet to showcase any sign of his abilities on the field.

To the front row, where the Brumbies have impressive depth.  How they play it out will be interesting.  Ben Alexander is now the premier Tight Head Prop in Australia, being one of the standout Wallabies in 2009.  But will he be the Brumby number 3? With specialist Tight Head’s Guy Shepherdson (a former Wallaby) and Salesi Ma’afu (a Wallaby tourist) also in the squad, who fills in the Loose Head Prop spot? Surely it has to be Alexander? Or perhaps will Ma’afu or Shepherdson be switched across? With Alexander out for at least the first two rounds of the comp with a hand injury, the options are limited.

John Ulugia has been called back into the squad as cover for Alexander, despite being used largely as a backup hooker previously.  The other full time prop in the squad is mystery man Jerry Yanuyanutawa, who is also injured. Jerry is a loosehead prop, but seems at least a year or two away from Super Rugby preparedness. His reputation in the loose (there’s that word again) does precede him however.

Ulugia will provide some handy cover at hooker as well. The Brumbies have just the two hookers, on a full time contract, in Stephen Moore and Huia Edmonds.  Moore is still the best hooker in Australia and, along with Elsom and Smith, provides experience and leadership to the pack. Edmonds is an able back up, and probably surpassed expectations in this role last year from which he was rewarded with a new two-year contract.

The draw for the Brumbies doesn’t look too shabby. They start off with a South African road trip, but only after playing the Force in Perth first, so there’s no chance of getting to the republic early.  The first home game is against the Lions in March, however the Lions are just travelling over the pond having taken on the Canes, whilst the Brumbies will be returning from Cape Town and an encounter with the Stormers. It’s a tough start, with a match against the Bulls as well, especially considering they will be without some front row depth.

There’s not much travelling in the 2nd part of the season however, which could prove invaluable for a finals run home.  It is Lions at home, then Sharks at home, across to Auckland for the Blues, before coming back for the Chiefs. After the bye the Brumbies stay in Canberra for matches against the Cheetahs and Hurricanes, before the local derby (at ANZ Stadium mind you) against the Tahs, before they return again to demolish the Reds.  The last home game is against the Highlanders in Round 13, before finishing with a cracker against the Crusaders in  Christchurch.

Brums

Expect plenty of Brumby celebrations in 2010!

A strong start to the season, using the siege mentality they thrive on, will be crucial for the Brumbies. If they can get through that with a couple of wins (Force and Stormers) and a bonus point or two, they will have set themselves up to make every post a winner for the rest of the season.

My prediction? A top two finish.  Very real title contenders….injuries permitting.

2010 Squad

Backs: Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Andrew Smith, Alifeleti Mafi, Francis Fainifo, Afusipa Taumoepeau, Tryone Smith, Stirling Mortlcok, Matt Giteau, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano, Josh Valentine, Patrick Phibbs.

Forwards: Stephen Hoiles, Rocky Elsom, Jack Vanderglas, George Smith, Mitchell Chapman, Peter Kimlin, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Hand, Mark Chisholm, Justin Harrison, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Salesi Ma’afu, Ben Alexander, Guy Shepherdson, Stephen Moore, Huia Edmonds.

2010 Draw

WEEK OPPONENT LOCATION DATE
1 v Force Perth 12 Feb
2 v Bulls Pretoria 20 Feb
3 v Stormers Cape Town 26 Feb
4 v Lions Canberra 5 Mar
5 v Sharks Canberra 13 Mar
6 v Blues Auckland 19 Mar
7 v Chiefs Canberra 26 Mar
8 BYE
9 v Cheetahs Canberra 10 Apr
10 v Hurricanes Canberra 16 Apr
11 v Waratahs Sydney 24 Apr
12 v Reds Canberra 1 May
13 v Highlanders Canberra 8 May
14 v Crusaders Christchurch 14 May

 

  • Scarfman

    Terrific coverage Nods. I am very nearly psyched for 2010. Just need the Tah Report to push me over the edge.

    One thing I can’t let go is your review of Matt Giteau. I think he is poison at 10. You’ve got two developing 10s who would love to have someone of Giteau’s talents playing outside of them. Gits at 10 would be a big backwards step for everyone.

  • Spook

    Good work Nod. Ignore that Giteau hater :-)

  • Pretty gob-smacked by that depth. By judgement and a little luck Friend’s done a great job in the most important of head coach’s roles – recruitment.

    • Robson

      Yeah and now he’s got to put the ingredients in the miximg bowl and mix it. We’ll see how good he is then.

  • Loving the depth of the article. 2010 will be a ripper of a season… lets hope Andrew Smith gets some game time this year.

  • mudskipper

    Great article Noddy… Well written and with good research… If anything perhaps a little politely understated. Brumbies need a good start to the season and they’ll be there come finals time. However as you said 2 wins from 3 starts would do… Bulls often have slow starts and have a few team issues going on at present. Their locks will be a hand full.

    Giteau and Valentine developed a strong halves understanding while at the Force last season. This should help set up a good early start to the season for the Brumbies.

    The Brumbies pack will be strong come scrum time and were good last year under Bill Young. With some small improvements to their lineouts and they’ll be tough to beat in set plays. Excellent loosies and supported by youth.

    NEW Players like Andrew Smith and Pat MacCabe could surprise many playing along side such big name players. Teams wont be watching them but these guys can run the ball.

    I can see their wingers Franky, Alfie and Zippa doing very well this season and getting plenty of ball over the line. They’ll be plenty tries, the Brumbies will be hard to defend against when in a teams 22. Just to much strength and talent to hold out. Bonus points are the key to the semis… Bring it on…

    Go the Wild Horses…The 3rd championship campaign begins…

  • old chestnut

    A great analysis Noddy.

    With that depth (especially at 6,10,12 and 13) unless injuries intervene Friend’s biggest problem will be keeping everyone interested.

  • Ben

    Obviously nice squad…only comment would be i hope they get selections right and dont have players stepping all over each other.

    Does friend have the heart to drop mortlock if hes not playing well…..not play ACC out of position. Pick the form wingers etc etc and of course PLAY GITEAU AT 12.

    It is a much better backline with Toomua at 10 and gits at 12. Sorry Tyron.

    Get the selection right and will go v well if they dont they could lose the first couple and by the end of SA trip be a long way back.

    CANT WAIT FOR KICK OFF.

    • mudskipper

      Ben I think during the season you’ll see all those players in different line ups… Friend will mix it up and as always have to cover injury time. Spreading the work load will help the squads depth and durability to last a hard S14 season…

  • Calexico

    Cheers Noddy – as others have already said, a great in-depth analysis. I’d really like to see Lealiifano at fullback for at least a couple of games with AAC on the wing. Bring it on!

  • Scott

    Great article Noddy.

    Top four finish at least for the Brumbies or their year will surely be considered a poor one.

    Look forward to your continued coverage during the season – you’ve set the bar pretty high.

    • Noddy

      more? I thought my responsibility finished at the season preview? Oh, except the gloating if they win the comp!

      • mudskipper

        as you should…

  • BrumbyJack

    You forgot to mention how utterly adorable their mascot is! Neigh.

  • CJ

    Pretty comprehensive coverage there Noddy. No mention of personal favourite assistant coach, Tony Rea. Coming over from the “dark side” surely his input on defence should be mentioned (being my cousin I’m slightly biased). After a bit more of a look at the Reds Brisbanerugby.com will hopeful have an equally in-depth coverage of their stocks. Basically the Reds backline played for the Wallabies last season, of course Berrick has jumped ship. With Digby Ione & Peter Hynes on the wings and Will Genia pairing with Quade Cooper inside is a good start. Forwards are also no slouches with Ben Daley working hard & Captain, James Horwell ever improving.

  • Robson

    I would have to say that the Oz franchises seem to have an edge to their look on paper that none of the Kiwi franchises do – at the moment. Depends a bit on how everyone travels methinks. Injuries and the like can soon skew the bias to the other side.

    Having said that I like the look of the Brumbies and on paper they will take a lot of beating. But the game is not played on paper it’s played out there on the paddock and on the training field. It’s also highly dependant on who is available at any given time.

    I would like to see the Brumbies come good this season, because they had a horror couple of seasons under Wild Bill Hickock when they seemed to go missing at crucial moments.

    Andy Friend is a bit too esoteric about his rugby for my liking and sometimes his selections are hard to figure. But the Brumbies are top of my list of favourites and have been since the Rod McQueen days. I wish them well.

  • Steve

    The idea of giving an opportunity to players is a long held one by the Brumbies.

    Putting the team in Canberra before Melbourne allowed ‘has beens’ or ‘never will bes’ a better chance of surviving the first few years of professional Rugby since the travel for work situation was a new one for most of the players and the Brumbies looked after them in that regards by establishing a close living environment (a.k.a ‘Melrose Place’ for the players.

    It also allowed the interstate players to get one back on the Provinces that showed them door – NSW letting George Smith go because he was ‘too small’ – good one!

  • “Terrific coverage Nods.” “Good work Nod.” “Pretty gob-smacked by that depth.” “Loving the depth of the article.” “Great article Noddy … Well written and with good research… If anything perhaps a little politely understated.” “A great analysis Noddy.” “Cheers Noddy – as others have already said, a great in-depth analysis.” “Great article Noddy…. Look forward to your continued coverage during the season – you’ve set the bar pretty high.” “Pretty comprehensive coverage there Noddy.”

    I can only join in the avalanche of adulation heaped on Noddy. Rarely have I read such a balanced, objective and non-partisan post.

  • Pedro

    I remember last year everyone was saying this same kind of thing about the tahs. Brumbies have that pressure on them this year, hopefully they respond better than the tahs did.

    • Noddy

      really? I remember all the comments about the Tahs was that they lacked it in the forwards whilst their backs looked decent. In the end the opposite happened.

    • Pedro

      really?
      I hope the opposite happens then or something.

  • Seb V

    hell yeh, go the brumbies. I hope to see lealifano at fullback with toomua flyhalf and gits at 12. AAC to 13 if mortlock is under form.

    • Robson

      I would hope that Morts is on form this year, because there’s no other centre in the world like him when he is.

      He had a nightmare of a season in 09, playing out of position with the Brumbies, injuries at crucial times, losing the WB captaincy etc. If anything the break away from the game will have healed his mental outlook and given him fresh composure.

      I have a feeling that we just might see something special from him this year.

  • ballboy

    Yep, great article Noddy and can’t wait for the season proper to start. Robson – Friend being esoteric. Can you explain that? I know the definition of the word but can’t see how it applies to him. From everything I’ve seen and read he’s as open and honest with the players and staff as one can be.
    There will be a lot of pressure on them to perform this year with their new recruits and Friend having been there for a year now. Ball in hand and use that backline – pleeeease.

  • JJJ

    Whatever his misdemeanours up north, I’m glad Harrison is back in oz to impart his experience to our developing locks. It’s an area we’re obviously struggling in atm. Hopefully he can teach them how to run a good lineout.

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