AT this time in 2011, the Brumbies had begun their pre-season for 2012 after finishing thirteenth, which all seems light years ago in the wake of their courageous performance in making this year’s final.
Inexperience and jet lag took its toll in the final 20 minutes of the decider. To go down by five points in one of the great finals away from home, and after travelling 30,000 kilometres in the month, is no mean feat.
No foreign team had ever won a Super Rugby final on NZ soil, but the Brumbies went close. In the end, it was a learning experience for much of the team who had never played in a finals series.
On the field, the side played with team spirit that hasn’t been evident for some seasons. You can put that down to the leadership of captain Ben Mowen and coach Jake White, a man who likes to be in control.
Two years ago, there were players openly questioning whether they wanted to play for the Brumbies or live in Canberra. White’s arrival was just what the side needed to ensure the players understood that off-field discipline was paramount to success on the field.
It’s worth noting there have been no off-field issues during White’s tenure at the Brumbies. With discipline in check, the likes of Laurie Fisher, Steve Larkham and Dean Benton have been able to go about their business without the off-field distractions that can derail a campaign.
So how do you build on this year’s success? In terms of playing personnel there won’t be too many changes. Peter Kimlin will be a huge loss after he displayed the best form of his career this season, George Smith needs little comment except to say he is still one of the best players in world rugby, and prop Dan Palmer’s decision to play in France is also a blow.
The final showed the Brumbies must build their depth to be more than competitive; the Chiefs gained enormous thrust from their bench in the final.
On the downside, this year’s crowds have been disappointing for a side on top of the ladder and more must be done to make the community more aware of the personalities of the players. While their appearance in the finals will help, marketing of the team needs to be overhauled. It is too easy to blame the weather, game plan or pay television for 14,000 turning out to see the Brumbies play in a final against the Cheetahs.
If I was to make a suggestion to the management: make players more accessible to the media and have more visibility in the community, there is plenty of research showing that people go to a sporting event to watch people they know, whether personally or through the media.
I have heard from many people following my column earlier in the season that the team deserved to play in front of bigger crowds. Many said they didn’t know who was in the team; some didn’t know when the games were on; others cited the style of play with a focus on defence; some were put out by the longer season and plenty said it was too cold.
Several others suggested that I was anti-Brumbies! Which is assuredly not the case, having called virtually every home game the side has played since its start in 1996.
So, I wish all the best to the Brumbies for another season, with bigger crowds that such a great side deserves.