June 28, 2019 15:51:31
While national headlines have been dominated by former rugby player Israel Folau’s contract dispute and fundraising efforts, the Brumbies squad has been going about their business winning games.
And, while they have been busy mounting a finals campaign that should be getting significantly more attention than it has been, a familiar feeling has been stirring among the Brumbies’ old boys.
Brumbies’ success speaks for itself
Though Pat McCabe, Ben Alexander and Joe Roff are now left arguing about who was faster, or who had the skills, the one thing that unites them is the ingrained desire for more Brumbies success.
And it is ingrained; in the 24 seasons of Super Rugby, since it began as the Super 12 competition in 1996, the Brumbies’ two championships in 2001 and 2004 remain the most of any Australian side.
Behind the titles and four other losses in deciders, 2019 represents the 12th appearance in a finals campaign.
On average, the Brumbies play finals rugby every second season. Only New Zealand heavyweights, the nine-time champion Crusaders, boast a better record.
The Brumbies last reached the final in 2013, going down to the Chiefs in New Zealand 27-22, and lost semi-finals to eventual champions the Waratahs in Sydney in 2014, and the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2015.
Their return to the semi-finals this weekend has the old boys excited.
Both Wallabies, former centre McCabe was forced into retirement by a third serious neck injury in 2014, and prop Alexander only just hung up the boots last season.
They say the similarities between the current side and their 2013-2015 teams are easy to spot.
“You can just see that they’re taking the right options at the right times, and that’s everything in finals matches. When you have half an opportunity, you’ve got to take it,” Alexander said.
“It does feel very similar in terms of the group they have at the moment, the quality of the people and the enthusiasm and the enjoyment that the group seems to be getting from playing together,” McCabe agreed.
But both admit the task in front of the 2019 side, winning a semi-final over the Jaguares in the Argentinean capital Buenos Aires, is going to be significantly more daunting than the Brumbies’ 2013 win over the Bulls in the South African capital, Pretoria.
“It doesn’t get any more hostile than playing over in Argentina,” McCabe said.
“I remember playing a Test Match there in 2012 and getting escorted off the bus by about 200 or so riot police. It’s certainly a very different environment.”
Alexander said the key for the current line-up would be to get off to a good start.
“We started really well in Pretoria in 2013,” he said.
“Like the boys did on the weekend, where they got a couple of tries early, got some momentum and played really well.”
Return of the glory years
After coming under surprise scrutiny mid-season for daring to win games on the back of a dominant set piece and driving maul, the Brumbies’ adaptability and versatility in attack has come to the fore ever since.
The inside pass proved exceptionally deadly in last week’s quarter final against the Sharks, but from both set play and general play scenarios, the Brumbies in 2019 have shown a welcome return to cutting opposition defence apart.
The sight of Henry Speight or Tom Banks breaking out into the clear from the midfield has been a wonderful throwback to the fondly remembered glory days of the early 2000s, when Andrew Walker used to run the same lines up through the middle of Canberra Stadium.
This was a point not lost on Roff, having been a repeat recipient of the same inside pass back in the day.
“Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? And we love reminiscing,” Roff, who remains the Brumbies’ leading try-scorer, said.
“It’s just exciting seeing some of those same plays still working. That makes us old washed-up guys very proud.”
Alexander argued the side had given themselves every chance of success, just by reaching the semi-final.
“Most of the battle is just trying to get to the final, and then anything can happen,” he said.
“I know they’re not there yet, but they’ve done all the hard work to get there this weekend and now they’ve just got to front up and give it a go.”
And though the old boys are well and truly on board for tomorrow morning’s clash, there is one other common feeling uniting the stars of Brumbies jerseys past.
“Big games, a buzzing town, a buzzing Canberra. These are the times that you do miss,” Roff conceded.
“It’d be a great time to still be out there with the lads, and still playing,” Alexander agreed.
“But I’ll definitely enjoy watching on, nonetheless.”
The Super Rugby semi-final between the Jaguares and Brumbies from 9:00am Saturday AEST can be heard on ABC Grandstand Digital in the ACT, and via the Super Rugby button on the ABC Listen App. ABC Radio Canberra listeners will hear regular updates through Saturday Breakfast with Greg Bayliss.
June 28, 2019 15:06:03
stories from Australian Capital Territory