Brumbies playmakers Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano. Photo: Melissa Adams
Eddie Jones has backed Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano to become one of the best playmaker combinations in Super Rugby as the duo prepares to make a comeback at Canberra Stadium.
But the former Wallabies and ACT coach has warned the Brumbies to prepare for the toughest year of their rebuilding phase as teams now hunt Jake White's men.
The Brumbies will begin the second year of White's plan to resurrect the club when they play the Queensland Reds in the opening round on Saturday night.
Their impressive campaign last season has changed the expectations and pressure on the players after a raw squad fell one game short of breaking the Brumbies' finals drought.
Toomua and Lealiifano had season-ending injuries last year, but Jones says they hold the key to the Brumbies rising to a new level.
''Toomua and Lealiifano have the potential to be the best 10-12 combination in the Australian conference,'' Jones said.
''Both have got great running and passing games and can kick. But they've got to be able to vary their alignment [in the back line], be flatter on fast ball and deep on slow ball.
''They're really young guys. Whatever they do this year, they'll do better next year and you have to invest in them coming through.
''The challenge is the attack needs to be able to score more points and the performance of the No.9, 10 and 12 will be crucial in how the team goes.''
Toomua will be given another chance to stake his claims as the first-choice flyhalf after a knee reconstruction cut his campaign short last year.
In his absence, Lealiifano stepped into the No.10 jersey and was on the cusp of a Wallabies call-up before he dislocated his ankle against the NSW Waratahs.
White is confident Toomua can have a breakout year.
''I'm very happy with how they're both going and I really think Matt Toomua is going to stake a massive claim this year,'' White said.
''He's big, strong and defends very well. He hasn't been lucky with playing games in the last couple of years but I'm hoping the more he stays on the field the better he will be and the combination will grow with Christian.''
The increased attention on the Brumbies this season is a stark contrast to the expectations when White first took the coaching reins.
The unheralded Brumbies surprised everyone when they led the Australian conference for most of the season before they choked at the last hurdle and the Reds stole the guaranteed spot in the finals. Their challenge now is to avoid second-year syndrome and take the next step.
''This is going to be the toughest year for them, it's a matter of how they keep going forward,'' Jones said.
''They were seen as a team that had lost its way … but now they'll be heavily scrutinised and analysed, opposition teams will really crank up the way they play the Brumbies.''
Foundation Brumbies captain Brett Robinson presented the players with their jerseys on Friday night and said the club was on ''an upward curve after a difficult period''.
''I can only see them improving with more time together … expectations have changed, but I think they can be like the [championship-winning side] of 2001 and learn from falling short the previous year.''