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Pain can fuel Brumbies' title hunt

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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

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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.

Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 0vs FJI 0 05:00Twic
TGA 0vs GEO 0 21:00Kholm
IRE 0vs CAN 0 23:30MilS
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs JPN 0 01:45Brig
FRA 0vs ITA 0 05:00Twic
SAM 0vs USA 0 21:00Brig
WAL 0vs URU 0 23:30MilS
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs ARG 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 0vs JPN 0 23:30Kholm
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs ROM 0 05:00Olym
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs NAM 0 05:00Olym
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 0vs GEO 0 01:45Kholm
ITA 0vs CAN 0 23:30Ella
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SAM 0 01:45Villa
ENG 0vs WAL 0 05:00Twic
AUS 0vs URU 0 21:00Villa
SCO 0vs USA 0 23:30Ella
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 0vs ROM 0 01:45Wemb
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 0vs NAM 0 01:45Sand
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 0vs FJI 0 01:45MilS
FRA 0vs CAN 0 05:00stadium:mk
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 0vs GEO 0 05:00MilS
SAM 0vs JPN 0 23:30stadium:mk
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 0vs SCO 0 01:45St James' Park
ENG 0vs AUS 0 06:00Twic
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 0vs TGA 0 00:30KPS
IRE 0vs ITA 0 02:45Olym
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45KPS
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45Olym
NAM 0vs GEO 0 06:00Sand
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 0vs TGA 0 06:00St James' Park
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 0vs SCO 0 00:30St James' Park
AUS 0vs WAL 0 02:45Twic
ENG 0vs URU 0 06:00Manch
ARG 0vs NAM 0 22:00KPS
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 0vs ROM 0 00:30Sand
FRA 0vs IRE 0 02:45MilS
USA 0vs JPN 0 06:00Kholm
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinB 0vs RUpA 0 02:00Twic
WinC 0vs RUpD 0 06:00MilS
WinD 0vs RUpC 0 23:00MilS
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinA 0vs RUpB 0 02:00Twic
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF1 0vs WQF2 0 02:00Twic
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
WQF3 0vs WQF4 0 03:00Twic
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
LSF1 0vs LSF2 0 07:00Olym
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
WSF1 0vs WSF2 0 03:00Twic
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
France 0 0 0 0 0 0
New Zealand 0 0 0 0 0 0
Canada 0 0 0 0 0 0
Tonga 0 0 0 0 0 0
Japan 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Romania 0 0 0 0 0 0
Argentina 0 0 0 0 0 0
England 0 0 0 0 0 0
Georgia 0 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 0 0 0 0 0 0
USA 0 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ireland 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Overall standings
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Fiji 0 0 0 0 0 0
Samoa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Namibia 0 0 0 0 0 0
South Africa 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0 0
View all
 

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