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African connection cooks up plot to put Brumbies on top

Brumbies players Ruan Smith, Ian Prior, Etienne Oosthuizen, Stephan Van Der Watt and Mark Swanepoel enjoy a barbecue on Saturday.

Brumbies players Ruan Smith, Ian Prior, Etienne Oosthuizen, Stephan Van Der Watt and Mark Swanepoel enjoy a barbecue on Saturday. Photo: Colleen Petch

IT'S HARDLY a traditional braai and there's no springbok on the menu, but a small balcony in Lyneham is where the ''African National Congress'' meets to lay the foundation for ACT Brumbies success.

And if halfback Ian Prior gets his way, biltong - an African version of beef jerky - will become a regular on the Brumbies' menu as the club attempts to end its finals drought.

The Brumbies boast an African connection unmatched by any team in Australia or New Zealand.

With coach Jake White leading the charge, he's recruited seven players with African heritage. Teammates have dubbed them the ''African National Congress''.

Once a week they meet for a braai - a barbecue - at the home of Ruan Smith and Etienne Oosthuizen.

For them, it's a home away from home where they can speak Afrikaans and settle into life in Canberra.

Prior has his own biltong machine and is testing some samples to see if athletic performance director Dean Benton will allow it in the Brumbies' kitchen.

It might seem strange. But Smith insists it is fast-tracking the bond within the team and easing any homesickness.

''It definitely makes you feel like you're at home,'' Smith said.

''Maybe we'll get Jake around sometime as well … this is definitely helping settle into Canberra.

''We don't mind if they call us the South African Brumbies … there's heaps of different cultures in the team so it can't hurt having a South African flavour.''

Smith, Oosthuizen, Clyde Rathbone, Stephan Van Der Walt and Mark Swanepoel all have South African heritage while Prior and David Pocock grew up in Zimbabwe.

When White took over last season he implemented a game style which drew comparisons to South Africa's Super Rugby teams.

Some have even dubbed the team the ''Biltong Brumbies''.

But that doesn't faze the latest batch of recruits. While they have African heritage, all qualify to play for Australia and do not fill the Brumbies' foreign player spots.

''There's the 'Community' of Islander players and they called us the 'African National Congress' and then there's the Aussies in the team,'' Smith said.

''It's a little rivalry in the way … we haven't taken each other on at the moment but when the season starts up it will be much more competitive.''

The biggest problem they face is staying fit after a braai and some biltong.

Prior is in his second year with the Brumbies.

He grew up in Zimbabwe and moved to Brisbane before joining the Brumbies.

''I think the only way Ruan knows how to cook is on the barbecue,'' Prior said.

''The numbers of Africans have really skyrocketed this year. Our clique isn't as strong as the 'Community'. But we get on well, have a lot in common and can chat about anything.

''My dad made me a biltong machine and when I get Dean's approval, hopefully we can get all the boys on it, but I'll test it on myself first. I don't want to make anyone sick.''

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