Brumbies looking to change gears in 2018
SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW 2018 - TEAM-BY-TEAM: In the 11th instalment of our 15-part build-up to the season we look at the first of the Australian teams - the Brumbies.
The rest of the Aussie teams will follow later this week.
The Brumbies have been Australia's conference champion the last two years. Although in 2017, that didn't mean much – the side qualified for the playoffs with a 6-9 losing record as Australia's sides registered their worst ever collective season.
Two straight first-round play-off exits have left the Brumbies at an impasse. No one in Canberra is satisfied as conference champions.
Newly promoted head coach Dan McKellar understands that Super Rugby has become all about relentless attack. In order to get back to competing for Super Rugby titles, the side needs to change.
"We can't be so reliant on our line-out and our maul and our set-piece to win a competition," McKellar told Fox Sports Australia.
"Whilst that will win us games at times, in conditions and oppositions that we're playing against, it's not going to win us the Super Rugby comp and that's our end goal.
The 'oppositions' McKellar refers to are New Zealand's high-powered teams and South Africa's Lions. They play at a frenetic pace and score points in frenzies. Playing a conservative, set-piece dominant game has failed Australian sides in recent years.
"If you think of the Brumbies over the last few years - certainly while I've been here over the past four years - we've been known for our line-out, our maul, our breakdown and our defence, so we've identified that we need to score more tries.
"To do that, we'll tweak how we'll play the game and certainly make sure we're more threatening from unstructured situations and transition."
How they will do that is easier said than done but the realisation that it needs to be is a step in the right direction.
The return of their best player, David Pocock, has been delayed by the need for surgery following a season in Japan. His attacking game has broadened under Robbie Deans where he has become a damaging edge runner, but bringing this to Super Rugby will be a different task.
Pocock's game is more of a trump card in defence – his disruption at the breakdown is key to slowing opposition ball and winning the odd turnover – which can stifle and suffocate fast teams dragging them into a stop-start affair.
Much of the attack will rest on the shoulders of Christian Lealiifano, back to full health and returning from a short European stint with Ulster. He was outstanding for the Irish club and his experience will be instrumental in guiding the Brumbies backline.
New recruit Matt Lucas joins the side from the Waratahs to compete with Joe Powell as Lealiifano's halves partner while last years Kiwi flyhalf Wharenui Hawera will likely be the backup 10.
Kyle Godwin and Tevita Kuridrani will likely start in the midfield, while ex-Force winger Chance Peni joins the team looking to pair with Henry Speight on the wing. Queenslander Tom Banks will be back at fullback.
The strength of the Brumbies still looks to be in the forward pack, with Wallabies Allan Alaalatoa, Scott Sio, Ben Alexander, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Josh Mann-Rea, Tom Cusack and Blake Enever.
Australia's Super Rugby Player of the Year Isi Naisarani will join the Brumbies from the Force, adding a dynamic ball-carrying Number 8 to the pack. In just his first season Naisarani made a huge impact, and the Brumbies will benefit from his play this season.
It's hard to see the Brumbies diverging too far away from their strength until their attacking prowess develops, but the pack has the ability to set the platform. The Brumbies will compete for the Australian conference with the Waratahs, but as changes take place they will find it hard to do more.
Australian Conference Placing: Second
Player of the Year: Christian Lealiifano
Rookie of the Year: Folau Fa'ainga
Breakout Player: Lolo Fakaosilea
Best Signing: Isi Naisarani
Super Rugby Placing: Tenth
Best finish: Champions in 2001 and 2004
Worst finish: Thirteenth in 2011
In: Richie Arnold (Western Force), Mees Erasmus (Perth Spirit), Folau Fainga'a (NSW Country Eagles), Matt Lucas (Waratahs), Lachlan McCaffrey (Leicester Tigers), Isi Naisarani (Western Force), Chance Peni (Western Force), David Pocock (return from sabbatical), Darcy Swain (Canberra Vikings), James Verity-Amm (Western Force).
Out: Nigel Ah Wong (Counties Manukau), Chris Alcock (Kamaishi Seawaves), Jarrad Butler (Connacht), Thomas Cubelli (Jaguares), Anthony Fainga'a (Kintetsu Liners), Saia Fainga'a (London Irish), Scott Fardy (Leinster), Nick Jooste (Perth Spirit), De Wet Roos (Southern Districts), Faalelei Sione (Canberra Vikings), Jordan Smiler (Sungoliath), Tom Staniforth (Waratahs), Isaac Thompson (Blue Zoomers), Aidan Toua (Heat).
Squad: Robbie Abel, Allan Alaalatoa, Ben Alexander, Richie Arnold, Rory Arnold, Tom Banks, Sam Carter, Tom Cusack, James Dargaville, Blake Enever, Mees Erasmus, Folau Fainga'a, Lolo Fakaosilea, Kyle Godwin, Mack Hansen, Wharenui Hawera, Ben Hyne, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Leslie Leulua'iali'i-Makin, Ryan Lonergan, Matt Lucas, Josh Mann-Rea, Nic Mayhew, Lachlan McCaffrey, Andy Muirhead, Isi Naisarani, Chance Peni-Ataera, David Pocock, Joe Powell, Scott Sio, Faalelei Sione, Andrew Smith, Henry Speight, Darcy Swain, Lausii Taliauli, Rob Valetini, James Verity-Amm.
* Don't miss the rest of the Australian conference later this week.