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Super Rugby: ACT Brumbies' 2015 season review

ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham will step up player negotiations in the new year as he attempts to keep his squad together, declaring locking in his roster takes priority over his own future.

Larkham and Brumbies chief executive Michael Jones have held initial talks about extending his coaching contract beyond the end of the 2016 Super Rugby season.

But with stars including David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano and Scott Sio all nearing the end of their contracts, Larkham will delay discussions on his deal until later next year.

The Brumbies have tabled an offer to Lealiifano, which would allow him to continue his Australian rugby career and also supplement his earnings with potential stints in Japan.

Cashed-up clubs in France and England have thrown big-money options at Pocock, but the star openside flanker is yet to decide if he will continue playing or take a sabbatical.

The Brumbies will lose captain Stephen Moore to the Queensland Reds, Matt Toomua to the Leicester Tigers and Joseph Tomane to France at the end of the season.


Larkham has indicated he wants to stay in Canberra and ensure the trio's departure isn't the start of the club sliding down the Super Rugby rankings.

The Brumbies have been installed as one of the favourites for the revamped Super Rugby format, which sees an extra South African side, the Japan Sunwolves and Argentina Jaguares join the competition.

After three consecutive finals appearances, Larkham says it's time for the Brumbies to break through for their first title since 2004.

"I'm certainly keen to stay in Canberra. I love Canberra and I'm very proud of what we do with rugby in this region. There's a long history and we've got a lot to prove. We can prove it," Larkham said.

"But my priority is making sure the squad is locked in for 2017 and 2018 rather than wasting time on my contract. I'd rather spend time getting the boys locked away.

"I'm not worried about trying to get it done before the season. I need to give the boys certainty for where their future is and in my head I'm staying here in Canberra. We've said let's focus on the players first."

The 2015 campaign will go down as one that got away. The Brumbies had a roster capable of winning the title, but some of the games they lost by tight margins came back to haunt them.

The Brumbies made it to the semi-finals, but fell short in their bid for the title when they lost to the Wellington Hurricanes.

They sneaked into the play-offs, snatching sixth spot on the ladder by just one point and then beating the Cape Town Stormers in South Africa in the first round of the finals.

Larkham's men had the best defensive record in the competition, conceding just 21 tries in their 16 games.

But in the end six losses by five points or loss cost them dearly as they slipped down the ladder and had to travel to South Africa and New Zealand in their two finals matches.

The intense travel schedule in the play-offs is the main reason Larkham says the club must finish in the top two in 2016 if it wants to break an 11-year championship drought.

"I was happy with most of our season; we started really well then had injuries in the middle and took some games to find our rhythm," he said.

"We lost a number of games by less than four points and had we got one of those across the line, we would have been in the top two. That would have made the finals a lot easier.

"We've been chasing that top two for the last few years knowing it makes a difference. We've found out how difficult it is to travel. Our goal is still to get into the top two, but we certainly learned a bit this year."

The Brumbies finished with nine wins from their 16 games as they re-injected Pocock after two years out with knee injuries.

Toomua and Lealiifano stepped up as playmakers while Sio confirmed his standing as the premier loosehead prop in Australian rugby.

Towering 209-centimetre lock Rory Arnold was the find of the season, plucked from obscurity 12 months ago and almost forcing his way into Wallabies selection contention.

The season also had the touching story of powerful No.8 Ita Vaea's shock comeback. Vaea missed almost two years after doctors discovered he had a life-threatening heart condition.

But the ruthless forward cemented his spot in the Brumbies' line-up and left a path of destruction.

The tight losses cut the Brumbies deep, but it's the fact that they failed to beat bitter rivals the NSW Waratahs in two matches that will sting the most.

Waratahs forward Jacques Potgieter was fined for using the word "f----t" as a sledge to Brumbies players as the on-field enemies went into Super Rugby war.

It was Larkham's first season as a sole head coach after sharing the role with Laurie Fisher in 2014 and working under Jake White in 2012 and 2013.

"Our defence was outstanding, one of the best records in the competition. We've got to work on our attack, we got good pay from our maul [in scoring tries]," Larkham said.

"But we've got an international back line and we need to use it, we can probably look at expanding our attacking game a bit, taking more chances out of our own half."

The Brumbies have been tagged as the favourites to take out the 2016 title given they boast Wallabies players in almost every position.

Outsiders say the club needs to strike now before it loses Toomua, Moore and potentially Pocock from 2017.

The Brumbies have lost halfback Nic White to France, but replaced him with Argentina international Tomas Cubelli.

Larkham said the team was well positioned to take advantage of its all-star line-up, but said they wanted sustainable success and not just winning in 2016 and then dropping away. 

"There's no magic formula ... we've got to get ahead of the game and understand what's important in the finals. After the last two seasons we realise that's getting a top-two finish and to do that we need to improve our away record," Larkham said.

"The thing about this team is that this squad has been together, they know what to expect and it's not a daunting prospect to get to finals. We'll have more composure in the finals next year.

"A lot of guys recognise 2016 is a big opportunity. The longer you're together, the better your chance of winning it is. We know some guys are leaving, this is a good shot we've got.

"But this is a new era of Brumbies and even in the early 2000s [when the Brumbies were dominant] we didn't have the same players, we had a lot of changes.

"Everyone has already put a lot into the season, it already feels like a better environment and a better culture than last season. Culture as in just the work ethic."

Larkham was also the Wallabies' assistant coach for the World Cup and is yet to decide whether he will juggle both roles in 2016.

He was part of the Wallabies' revival under Michael Cheika, with Moore taking the captaincy reins and Pocock starring in Australia's run to the World Cup final.

The Brumbies could have up to 11 Wallabies in their starting line-up for the opening game of the season on February 26 and Larkham is confident they can enhance Canberra's reputation as an Australian Test factory.


Player movement

Gains: Tomas Cubelli, Robbie Abel, Albert Anae, Nick Jooste, Joe Powell, Andrew Smith, Aidan Toua, Michael Wells.

Losses: Nic White (France), Jean-Pierre Smith (Stormers), Sean Doyle, Siliva Siliva (Melbourne), Fotu Auelua, Jesse Mogg (France), Rodney Iona.

Super Rugby: Finished 6th. Played 16, won 9, lost 7 (11 bonus points). Scored 45 tries, conceded 21.

Round 1: beat Queensland Reds 47-3 at Canberra

Round 2: lost to Waikato Chiefs 19-17 at New Plymouth

Round 3: beat Melbourne Rebels 20-15 at Melbourne

Round 4. beat Western Force 27-15 at Canberra

Round 5: beat Queensland Reds 29-0 at Brisbane

Round 6: lost to NSW Waratahs 28-13 at Sydney

Round 8: beat Free State Cheetahs 20-3 at Canberra

Round 9: lost to Auckland Blues 16-14 at Auckland

Round 10: lost to Melbourne Rebels 13-8 at Canberra

Round 11: beat Otago Highlanders 31-18 at Canberra

Round 12: lost to NSW Waratahs 13-10 at Canberra

Round 13: lost to Cape Town Stormers 25-24 at Cape Town

Round 14: beat Johannesburg Lions 30-20 at Johannesburg

Round 16: beat Pretoria Bulls 22-16 at Canberra

Round 17: beat Western Force 33-20 at Perth

Round 18: lost to Canterbury Crusaders 37-24 at Canberra

Week 1 finals: beat Cape Town Stormers 39-19 at Cape Town

Semi-final: lost to Wellington Hurricanes 29-9 at Wellington


February 26: Brumbies v Wellington Hurricanes at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm

March 4: Brumbies v NSW Waratahs at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm

March 11: Brumbies v Western Force at Perth, 10pm

March 20: Brumbies v Cape Town Stormers at Cape Town, 4.10am

March 28: Brumbies v Free State Cheetahs at Bloemfontein, 12am

April 2: Brumbies v Waikato Chiefs at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm

April 16: Brumbies v NSW Waratahs at Allianz Stadium, 7.40pm

April 24: Brumbies v Canterbury Crusaders at Canberra Stadium, 4.05pm

April 30: Brumbies v Otago Highlanders at Invercargill, 5.35pm

May 6: Brumbies v Pretoria Bulls at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm

May 13: Brumbies v Melbourne Rebels at Melbourne, 7.40pm

May 28: Brumbies v Japan Sunwolves at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm

July 1: Brumbies v Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm

July 8: Brumbies v Auckland Blues at Auckland, 5.30pm

July 16: Brumbies v Western Force at Canberra Stadium, 7.40pm