Ahead of the 2017 Super Rugby season we take a closer look at each of the 18 teams participating. Next up, the Brumbies.
Australian Conference Champions last year, several subplots have conspired to make this season more complicated for the Brumbies and could explain their heavy loss to the Waratahs in a recent trial match.
The search for a new head coach is on and the handover between Stephen Larkham and his successor will begin early, with Larkham joining the Wallabies as a full-time assistant at the end of the Super Rugby season. On top of this, several key players will miss the first few games due to injury.
Last Year: The Brumbies made it the quarter-finals last year after easily finishing top of a weak Australian Conference with six wins from six games.
Their Super Rugby qualifiers campaign was quickly ended when they were faced with tougher opponents, though. In the quarter finals the Brumbies lost 15-9 to the Highlanders, failing to find a way through the New Zealand side’s defence.
Though quite successful on the field, there was high drama behind the scenes in Canberra after chief executive Michael Jones was removed from his position and subsequently took the franchise to court. The situation was later resolved, with Jones stepping down as Michael Thomson was appointed the new chief executive.
Disruption was also caused by injuries to key players such as David Pocock, Joseph Tomane, Ita Vaea and captain Stephen Moore. The side were frequently let down by their scrum, with a success rate of 88 percent across the season ranking them 14th in this area – a surprising statistic for a side with that much experience in its ranks.
This Year: Stephen Larkham’s team have taken some big hits in terms of injuries during their pre-season games.
The matches against the Waratahs and the Australian Barbarians saw two major knee injuries. Argentina scrum-half Tomás Cubelli’s setback will keep him out of the game for the next six months, while Lausii Taliauli’s injury is more severe and means he’ll be out for the whole season.
Co-captain Christian Lealiifano is also still in recovery from a bone-marrow transplant which will leave him unable to play for the whole season, though he will still play an important leadership role.
The Brumbies have lost some experienced players, like Robbie Coleman, David Pocock and Stephen Moore, but hope can be found in the many talented young players who will now get the chance to establish themselves as Super Rugby regulars.
The development of players like Jordan Jackson-Hope and Faalelei Sione, who came through the Brumbies Pathways program, is key for the future of the side. The Brumbies have also recruited experienced names though – namely twin brothers Saia and Anthony Fainga’a.
Key players: Co-captain and lock Sam Carter will continue to lead from the front with his extremely high work-rate in defence. His experience – Carter has gained 79 caps for the Brumbies and 13 for Australia – as well as that of fellow internationals Scott Sio, Ben Alexander and Allan Alaalatoa, will be key in the scrum.
Full-back Aidan Toua was arguably one of the side’s best players last season, repeatedly breaking through the opposition’s defence with his fast feet.
Players to watch: It will be interesting to see how prop Nic Mayhew develops alongside all the international forwards at his new club. Mayhew is extremely talented in the scrum, so he should fill the gap left by Ruan Smith.
The Brumbies have also found themselves a skilled attacking fly-half with impressive pace in Wharenui Hawera.
Another signing with a lot of promise is centre and fly-half Kyle Godwin. Godwin established himself as one of Western Force’s best players and Larkham will have a tough choice between him and Hawera at number ten, while the time has come for Godwin to kick on after years of promise.
Tom Banks meanwhile proved his pace and power in the 2016 National Rugby Championship and will surely bolster the Brumbies’ backs both in defence and attack.
Prospects: The Brumbies have made it to the play-offs every year of Stephen Larkham’s tenure and there’s no reason why 2017 should be different. Getting past the quarter-finals however may be too much to ask as it is unlikely the Brumbies will be up to the standard of the New Zealand sides.
Players In: Nic Mayhew (Blues), Faalelei Sione (University of Canberra Vikings), Saia Fainga’a (Reds), Chris Alcock (Force), Tom Cusack (Australia Sevens), Rob Valetini (Melbourne Harlequins), Lolo Fakaosilea (Reds), Ryan Lonergan (Tuggeranong Vikings), Wharenui Hawera (Southland), Anthony Fainga’a (Reds), Kyle Godwin (Force), Tom Banks (Reds)
Players Out: Albert Anae (Mitsubishi Dynaboars), Ruan Smith (Toyota Verblitz), Stephen Moore (Reds), David Pocock (sabbatical), Michael Wells (Waratahs), Ita Vaea (retired), Michael Dowsett (Southland), Matt Toomua (Leicester Tigers), Robbie Coleman (Force), Joe Tomane (Montpellier)
Saturday, February 25 v Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)
Saturday, March 4 v Sharks (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Friday, March 10 v Force (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Saturday, March 18 v Waratahs (Allianz Stadium, Sydney)
Saturday, March 25 v Highlanders (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Round 6: BYE
Saturday, April 8 v Reds (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Saturday, April 15 v Rebels (AAMI Park, Melbourne)
Friday, April 21 v Hurricanes (McLean Park, Napier)
Sunday, April 30 v Blues (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Round 11: BYE
Friday, May 12 v Lions (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Saturday, May 20 v Kings (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Saturday, May 27 v Jaguares (Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires)
Saturday, June 3 v Rebels (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Friday, July 7 v Reds (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Saturday, July 15 v Chiefs (FMG Stadium, Waikato)