Rugby Union

State of play for ACT Brumbies in Super Rugby

STATE OF PLAY

A new coach and a new captain, but the Brumbies will have the same Super Rugby title ambitions after losing the preliminary final to the Waratahs last year. The Brumbies will start the season with a fresh outlook when club great Stephen Larkham takes over solo as head coach and Stephen Moore steps up as captain. While rival Australian teams have recruited big names, the Brumbies have put faith in an unknown group of youngsters to bolster their depth and add to their 14 Wallabies representatives. They'll have to overcome the loss of director of rugby Laurie Fisher, captain Ben Mowen, veteran Clyde Rathbone and Wallabies hardman Pat McCabe.

SECRET WEAPON

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He's played just five games in two years, but David Pocock looms as the Brumbies' ace this year. Pocock is making a comeback after two knee reconstructions and there's obvious doubt whether he will be able to recapture the form that saw him regarded as one of the world's best flankers. He's largely a forgotten man in Australian rugby, slipping into the shadows to recover from injury and watching the rise of Michael Hooper. The former Wallabies captain will take time to find his feet. But Pocock is one of the best ball-pinchers in Super Rugby and that will set him apart in his return to the field.

ACHILLES HEEL

Squad depth. The Brumbies boast 14 Wallabies in their 32-man squad, including Pocock, Stephen Moore, Scott Fardy and Matt Toomua. But they are also trying to cover the loss of former Test captain Mowen, Rathbone, McCabe and a host of experienced fringe players. It means a group of unknown rookies will be thrust into the spotlight, given the task of ensuring the Brumbies have impact from the bench. The tallest player in Super Rugby history, 208-centimetre giant Rory Arnold, is set to make his debut. But if the Brumbies are hit by injuries to top-line stars, they face a huge challenge.

THE DRAW

The ability to win on the road will be the defining factor in the Brumbies' hopes of success this year. They lost five games away from Canberra last year, including three defeats from four games in South Africa and New Zealand. Larkham has changed the team's travel schedule in the hope of sparking a turnaround. They'll face cross-code superstar Sonny Bill Williams when they play the Chiefs in round two. A solid block of home games in the middle of the season will provide a strong stepping stone to the finals before trips to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

PREDICTION

Fourth. The Brumbies have all the ingredients to be successful this season, but they need their young, unknown players to step up if they want to be a force. They boast an all-Wallabies forward pack and plenty of strikepower out wide in the back line. The Waratahs shape as the early favourite to take Australia's guaranteed place in the finals, leaving the Brumbies to fight for a wildcard spot. If they make the finals and their stars avoid injuries, the Brumbies can be genuine title contenders.

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