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Pain can fuel Brumbies' title hunt


After exceeding expectations last year, it's crucial Jake White's team doesn't rest on its laurels following the signing of David Pocock, writes CHRIS DUTTON

Matt Toomua of the Brumbies is forced off with a knee injury.

Matt Toomua of the Brumbies is forced off with a knee injury. Photo: Stuart Walmsley


nother near miss in an eight-season drought or an invaluable stepping stone of the new generation?

The only way to find the answer is to see how the ACT Brumbies deal with their unexpected rise as they move into uncharted territory next year.

Jesse Mogg runs away to score a try in round six.

Jesse Mogg runs away to score a try in round six. Photo: Stefan Postles

The easy option is to brush over narrowly missing the finals as an unknown team, proving everyone wrong in a stunning turnaround.

But the reality is the new generation Brumbies need to view it negatively, as a missed chance at glory, and use the pain to spur them to greater heights. It's amazing how much can change in a year.

Jake White took over after one of the most turbulent periods in Brumbies history - sacked coaches, superstars exiting and a dismal 2011 season.

Instead of big names, the South African set about turning a team filled with untapped potential into a Super Rugby contender.

In came new players, new coaches and new hope, with White using his four-year tenure to rebuild the two-time champion into a title threat.

The problem was the Brumbies hit their first major hurdle after just one game.

The club and the players desperately needed stability in the first year of rebuilding, but then White was linked to the English coaching job.

It was the first of many sink or swim moments.

Had White turned his back on the Brumbies and taken a chance to return to international rugby, the club could have crumbled.

All indications suggested White would leave. He went to lunch with the senior players before the match against the Free State Cheetahs in March, and even they didn't know whether the man touted as the Brumbies' saviour was about to walk away from the club.

In a bizarre few hours at Canberra Stadium, White first revealed to his team he would stay, then told the media of his plans to focus on the Brumbies.

By his own admission, he was tempted by the chance to lead England - the host for the 2015 World Cup.

But for whatever reason, he took a punt on the Brumbies and, instead of getting stuck in a downward spiral, the team ran on to the field and clinched a last-second penalty-goal win against the Cheetahs.

Just a year after a Brumbies team of stars created records for all the wrong reasons, White's decision to stay in Canberra kick-started what most thought was impossible.

The Brumbies' team of no-names - boasting just four Wallabies - surprised all of its rivals.

They went on to:

* Have the most successful two-game tour of South Africa in a decade;

* Break a nine-year hoodoo in Wellington;

* Secure 10 bonus points for the first time since 2002, having losing margins of seven points or less in all but one of their defeats.

One of the biggest turning points came when Christian Lealiifano dislocated his ankle against the NSW Waratahs.

Lealiifano had been playing so well that even though he missed the last six weeks of the season, he almost claimed enough votes to be crowned Australia's Super Rugby player of the year.

It's easy for the Brumbies to wonder ''what if'' after they held top spot in the Australian conference for most of the season.

What if Zack Holmes had kicked that last-minute penalty goal against the Queensland Reds in May?

What if Lealiifano and Matt Toomua hadn't suffered season-ending injuries?

Or what if Stephen Larkham had made a surprise comeback to help the finals charge?

Regardless, the Brumbies still had a golden chance to clinch their first finals berth since 2004 in the last round of the regular season.

All they had to do was beat the Blues - a team anchored near the bottom of the ladder with only pride left to play for - or lose by seven points or less.

Maybe it was the pressure, the hype, the expectation or the dream, but it took its toll on the young side and they crumbled under pressure.

The loss was a bitter pill to swallow after a resurgent season. The way they capitulated against the Blues was especially hard to take.

As captain Ben Mowen said: ''It's just a choke, you can't call it anything else. But I honestly believe that if we win a championship, we'll look back and say that was the game [against the Blues] that changed us.''

The on-field performances exceeded everyone's expectations, including White's, Mowen's and the rest of the side's.

Guys like Jesse Mogg, Joseph Tomane, Scott Fardy, Fotu Auelua and Nic White went from unknown rookies to future stars.

White turned his back on Test rugby to focus on a four-year plan in Canberra.

But perhaps the biggest moment of all happened after the choke and the on-field revival - snaring the signature of star flanker and Wallabies regular David Pocock.

Pocock is the biggest signing in Brumbies history.

The challenge for year two of White's plan is to ensure the players don't suffer second-year syndrome and rely on their gun recruit to end their finals drought.

We'll have to wait until the end of 2013 before we know if this year was a success or failure.

HuffPost Australia

Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
FRA 32vs ITA 10 Report Stats
SAM 25vs USA 16 Report Stats
WAL 54vs URU 9 Report Stats
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 26vs ARG 16 Report Stats
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 45vs JPN 10 Report Stats
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 28vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 38vs ROM 11 Report Stats
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 58vs NAM 14 Report Stats
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
ITA 23vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 46vs SAM 6 Report Stats
ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
AUS 65vs URU 3 Report Stats
SCO 39vs USA 16 Report Stats
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 35vs NAM 21 Report Stats
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 23vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 41vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 43vs GEO 10 Report Stats
SAM 5vs JPN 26 Report Stats
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 34vs SCO 16 Report Stats
ENG 13vs AUS 33 Report Stats
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 45vs TGA 16 Report Stats
IRE 16vs ITA 9 Report Stats
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 15vs ROM 17 Report Stats
FJI 47vs URU 15 Report Stats
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 64vs USA 0 Report Stats
NAM 16vs GEO 17 Stats
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 47vs TGA 9 Report Stats
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 33vs SCO 36 Report Stats
AUS 15vs WAL 6 Report Stats
ENG 60vs URU 3 Stats
ARG 64vs NAM 19 Report Stats
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 32vs ROM 22 Report Stats
FRA 9vs IRE 24 Report Stats
USA 18vs JPN 28 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 23vs WAL 19 Stats
NZL 62vs FRA 13 Report Stats
IRE 20vs ARG 43 Report Stats
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
AUS 35vs SCO 34 Stats
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 18vs NZL 20 Stats
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 15vs AUS 29 Stats
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 24vs ARG 13 Stats
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
NZL 34vs AUS 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 4 4 0 0 106 17
Wales 4 3 1 0 49 13
England 4 2 2 0 58 11
Fiji 4 1 3 0 -17 5
Uruguay 4 0 4 0 -196 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
South Africa 4 3 1 0 120 16
Scotland 4 3 1 0 43 14
Japan 4 3 1 0 -2 12
Samoa 4 1 3 0 -55 6
USA 4 0 4 0 -106 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 4 4 0 0 125 19
Argentina 4 3 1 0 109 15
Georgia 4 2 2 0 -70 8
Tonga 4 1 3 0 -60 6
Namibia 4 0 4 0 -104 1
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Ireland 4 4 0 0 99 18
France 4 3 1 0 57 14
Italy 4 2 2 0 -14 10
Romania 4 1 3 0 -69 4
Canada 4 0 4 0 -73 2
View all

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