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How a proud club fell into a seven-year glitch

Date

Chris Dutton

The Brumbies have endured seven years of pain since their Super Rugby triumph of 2004. Chris Dutton looks back over the last eight years at what went wrong.

Stirling Mortlock feels the pain of a Brumbies loss in 2009.

Stirling Mortlock feels the pain of a Brumbies loss in 2009. Photo: Reuters

 

2004

Coach: David Nucifora.

Result: 1st (won final), played 13, won 10, lost 3, 8 bonus points.

DESPITE an early-season player revolt, the Brumbies were unstoppable. The players and coach David Nucifora were at loggerheads, but the team kept producing outstanding results. The club announced midway through the season Nucifora's contract would not be renewed. However, the Brumbies lost just three games during the season and finished on top of the ladder. Future club greats Stephen Larkham, Owen Finegan, George Gregan, George Smith and Joe Roff were instrumental in the stunning campaign. They beat the Canterbury Crusaders in the final at Canberra Stadium. Off the field the players and coach couldn't agree, but they found a way to continue their domination of the competition.

 

2005

Coach: Laurie Fisher.

Result: 5th, played 11, won 5, lost 5, drew 1, 7 bonus points.

FORMER assistant coach Laurie Fisher took the head coaching reins. for the first time. The Brumbies' title defence started with promise and the regular season ended on a high, but it was a mid-season slump which cruelled their chances of going back to back. The Brumbies lost five games in a row, which ended their hopes. A last-round win against the Queensland Reds kept them in the hunt, but the Pretoria Bulls thumped the Cape Town Stormers 75-14 to extinguish the Brumbies' season. Injuries to Wallabies playmaker Stephen Larkham meant the team was forced to find a new flyhalf and no one could fill the void. The team relied so heavily on Larkham to perform it was a different side when he wasn't on the field. Despite their struggles, the Brumbies scored six tries in their last-round win to send foundation player Owen Finegan out a winner.

 

2006

Coach: Laurie Fisher.

Result: 6th, played 13, won 8, lost 4, drew 1, 4 bonus points.

BRILLIANT defence, average attack - that's the easiest way to sum up the 2006 campaign. The Brumbies had a mix of youth and experience in their squad, but they couldn't put it all together. It was the team's try-scoring ability which crippled their top-four hopes. They conceded less than two tries a game, but scored an average of just three. All the teams above them on the ladder had better attacking records and finishing the season with just four bonus points was what stood between the Brumbies and the finals. Fourth, fifth and sixth on the ladder were tied on 38 points, but the Pretoria Bulls' superior for and against record lifted them into the play-offs. Stirling Mortlock was superb and the strong season led to Laurie Fisher re-signing for a further two years.

 

2007

Coach: Laurie Fisher.

Result: 5th, played 13, won 9, lost 4, 4 bonus points.

THE George Gregan, Stephen Larkham and Jeremy Paul farewell tour was supposed to end with the club's third championship. All three were Wallabies greats who had decided 2007 would be their last Super Rugby season. And it was so close to coming to fruition. They became the first team in Brumbies history to win six games in a row and broke a 12-year hoodoo in Dunedin. But the finals curse continued. They missed a spot in the play-offs by just two points. They only lost four matches - including two after the buzzer. In the end the losses came back to haunt the two-time champions and they couldn't give their legends the send off they deserved. Again, the team's inability to collect bonus points was a major factor in their failure to make the finals.

 

2008

Coach: Laurie Fisher.

Result: 9th, played 13, won 6, lost 7, 6 bonus points.

FOR the first time in more than a decade the Brumbies ran on to the field knowing they would never have Gregan, Larkham or Paul back again. It was hoped the Brumbies could surge forward despite losing the three greats. But injuries crippled their hopes of proving they could fight on. Clyde Rathbone didn't play, Gene Fairbanks was on the field once, Julian Huxley had three games, Stirling Mortlock got six and Adam Ashley-Cooper was fit for eight. For the first time in a long time the Brumbies were out of finals contention before the end of the regular season.

 

2009

Coach: Andy Friend.

Result: 7th, played 13, won 8, lost 5, 6 bonus points.

ANDY Friend took over in a changing of the guard which was hoped would invigorate the Brumbies. One of Friend's first moves was to make Stephen Hoiles captain and reduce the workload on Wallabies veteran Stirling Mortlock. Friend recruited Wallabies rake Stephen Moore to bulk up the forward pack. For the most part, it worked. But a 56-7 thrashing at the hands of the Wellington Hurricanes left their finals hopes hanging by a thread. It came down to the last game of the season against the Waikato Chiefs and the Brumbies fell short, losing 10-7. But the season will be forever etched in Brumbies history for the death of Shawn Mackay. Mackay died after being hit by a car in Durban on the team's tour of South Africa. It shattered the tight-knit team and they rallied in his honour.

 

2010

Coach: Andy Friend.

Result: 6th, played 13, won 8, lost 5, 5 bonus points.

THE Brumbies were dubbed the Real Madrid of the competition after they successfully recruited Matt Giteau and Rocky Elsom to add to their star line-up. Most thought it was the year the Brumbies would end their finals drought. The Brumbies already had Stirling Mortlock, George Smith, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stephen Moore, Mark Chisholm and Ben Alexander. In almost every position they boasted players capable of stepping up to Test level. But after a promising start, the Wallabies-laden squad failed to rise into the play-offs. Their finals hopes hinged on their last game of the season against the Canterbury Crusaders. They fell at the final hurdle, losing by 18 points.

 

2011

Coach: Andy Friend/Tony Rea.

Result: 13th , played 16, won 4, lost 11, drew 1, 7 bonus points.

THE season of redemption was destined for disaster when Andy Friend was sacked after just two games. The Brumbies still boasted one of the most talented rosters in the competition, but behind the scenes things were falling apart. Friend had his contract cut short after the Brumbies lost to the Melbourne Rebels in round two. His assistant Tony Rea took over as the interim boss and he unleashed a verbal spray after his team lost to the Johannesburg Lions, calling the players soft and saying they had given up. It inspired a brief rally and they beat the eventual champions the Queensland Reds. But the season came crashing down when they were embarrassed by the NSW Waratahs in the last round, losing 41-7.

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