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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 Internationals 2014

Round 1
Sat, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 18 vs TGA 18 Report Stats
FJI 25 vs ITA 14 Report Stats
NZL 20 vs ENG 15 Report Stats
AUS 50 vs FRA 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 47 vs WXV 13 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 29 Report Stats
USA 6 vs SCO 24 Report Stats
CAN 25 vs JPN 34 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 2
Sat, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
SAM 15 vs ITA Report Stats
FJI 45 vs TGA 17 Report Stats
NZL 28 vs ENG 27 Report Stats
AUS 6 vs FRA Report Stats
Sun, 15 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 38 vs WAL 16 Report Stats
CAN 17 vs SCO 19 Report Stats
ARG 17 vs IRE 23 Report Stats
USA 29 vs JPN 37 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 3
Sat, 21 JunTimes shown AEST
ARG 19 vs SCO 21 Report Stats
FJI 13 vs SAM 18 Report Stats
JPN 26 vs ITA 23 Report Stats
AUS 39 vs FRA 13 Stats
NZL 36 vs ENG 13 Report Stats
Sun, 22 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 31 vs WAL 30 Report Stats
USA 38 vs CAN 35 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 4
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
RSA 55 vs SCO 6 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 5
Sun, 02 NovTimes shown AEDT
BAR 36 vs AUS 40 Report Stats
USA 6 vs NZL 74 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Sun, 09 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 24 vs SAM 13 Report Stats
ENG 21 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
WAL 28 vs AUS 33 Report Stats
FRA 40 vs FJI 14 Report Stats
IRE 29 vs RSA 15 Report Stats
SCO 41 vs ARG 31 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Sun, 16 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA 18 vs ARG 20 Report Stats
ENG 28 vs RSA 31 Report Stats
WAL 17 vs FJI 13 Report Stats
SCO 16 vs NZL 24 Report Stats
FRA 29 vs AUS 26 Report Stats
Mon, 17 NovTimes shown AEDT
IRE 49 vs GEO 7 Report Stats
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Sun, 23 NovTimes shown AEDT
ITA vs RSA 01:00Stadio Plebiscito
SCO vs TGA 01:30Rugby Park
IRE vs AUS 03:30Lansdowne Road
WAL vs NZL 04:30MilS
ENG vs SAM 06:00Twic
FRA vs ARG 07:00StdF
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Sun, 30 NovTimes shown AEDT
ENG vs AUS 01:30Twic
WAL vs RSA 01:30MilS
View All Fixtures
 
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