Planet Rugby

Super Rugby Preview: Brumbies

14th February 2014 07:44

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Recovered: David Pocock

The Brumbies came so close to glory in 2013 only to fall short in the final against the Chiefs, a heartbreaking loss that has been followed up by the departure of inspirational director of rugby Jake White.

How they rebound this season, with many in the squad now established Wallabies and David Pocock returning from injury, will be exciting to watch.

Last Year: 2013 was the year a number of Brumbies came of age. Christian Leali'ifano, Matt Toomua, Scott Fardy, Joe Tomane - the list goes on of players who made that breakthrough from Super Rugby to Test rugby.

Fardy was perhaps the most surprising, a 29-year-old who had been exiled in Japan, but his effectiveness for the Brumbies propelled him into a starting spot against the British and Irish Lions. It sums up the franchise's ethos nicely; a team of underrated, industrious but talented players who together as a squad surpass expectations.

Losing Michael Hooper to the Waratahs was a blow but the signing of David Pocock was supposed to be a masterstroke. Pocock was ruled out for the season though after only three rounds due to knee reconstruction surgery, allowing the romantic return to Canberra of George Smith. Bringing back in that experience was an ideal fit.

In the end the Brumbies only lost four of their 16 regular season matches, drawing twice, to top the Australian Conference.

Fast starts tend to produce good seasons and the Brumbies epitomised that, only losing once across the first 11 rounds as they set out their stall. A home fortress was also essential, with only one of the Brumbies' four losses coming at home. Henry Speight top scored for the side with 8 tries, with Leali'ifano finishing as the second highest points scorer in the tournament with 233 points.

This Year: Some weight has certainly been taken out of the pack following the departures of Dan Palmer, Etienne Oosthuizen, Peter Kimlin and Smith, but the Brumbies should still be expected to finish in one of the top two spots in the conference.

The squad is strong and having Pocock combine in the back-row with departing Australia number eight Ben Mowen is a talented mix.

Dangerous backs remain in abundance with Tomane, Speight, Jesse Mogg and Tevita Kuridani all being phenomenal athletes.

An eye will also be kept on Japanese recruit Harumichi Tatekawa. If he can have anywhere near the impact of Fumiaki Tanaka at the Highlanders then Laurie Fisher and Stephen Larkham will be delighted.

The onus is one those two gurus to carry on where Jake White left off - no mean feat - but they are the heart of this group and so inspiration will not be in short supply.

What matters is the schedule. The Brumbies will have to face the Crusaders, Bulls and Cheetahs away from home but will have the advantage of hosting the two-time champion Chiefs. Wins away in Sydney and Brisbane will be tough too.

Key Players: Having a fit and healthy David Pocock back is good for the whole of Australia rugby, not just for the Brumbies. Players of Pocock's talent don't grow on trees and the Zimbabwe-born openside is a rock over the ball at the breakdown. How the Wallabies deploy both Pocock and Hooper in the same XV isn't clear as yet, given Fardy has come in and added a crucial element at the lineout, but that's for Ewen McKenzie to work out. In the mean time, expect Pocock to be at his rampaging best in Canberra throughout 2014. Henry Speight should also be a safe bet to top their try scoring stats this year, with his elusive style and impressive pace.

Noteworthy Signings: Jack Whetton (Auckland), Jarrad Butler (Reds), Conrad Hoffmann, Lionel Cronjé (Golden Lions), Harumichi Tatekawa (Kubota Spears),

Noteworthy Losses: Dan Palmer, Etienne Oosthuizen, Colby Fainga'a, Peter Kimlin, George Smith, Ian Prior, Zach Holmes

Prospects: Just how much of an influence losing Jake White at the helm will have on the Brumbies will probably only be revealed after the first six rounds or so. But, on paper they certainly have the squad and experience to compete to win the Australia Conference or make the playoffs as a wildcard. From there it's a question of luck of the draw, but the Brumbies possess a ton of talent in their squad. Add in Pocock to last season's finalists and they look potent. Semi-finals.

Fixtures:

Feb 22: v Reds, home
March 1: v Force, away
March 7: v Hurricanes, away
March 15: v Waratahs, home
March 22: v Stormers, home
March 28: v Rebels, away
April 4: v Blues, home
April 11: v Reds, away
Week 10: Bye
April 25: v Chiefs, home
May 3: v Crusaders, away
May 10: v Sharks, home
May 17: v Cheetahs, away
May 24: v Bulls, away
May 31: v Rebels, home
June 28: v Waratahs, away
Week 18: Bye
July 11: v Force, home

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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2Bulls1638
3Stormers1632
4Lions1631
5Cheetahs1624