Swanepoel out to show Brumbies he's No.1 of No.9s
Brumbies player Mark Swanepoel at training at Brumbies HQ. Photo: Melissa Adams
After a frustrating year with the Canterbury Crusaders, halfback Mark Swanepoel is determined to make the ACT Brumbies No.9 jersey his own.
The member of the Brumbies' extended playing squad knows he has a challenge ahead of him.
Nic White had a breakout year that resulted in selection for Robbie Deans' Wallabies squad for the series against Wales and Scotland.
While he did not make his debut, he was clearly in the national team's plans before he underwent surgery on a troublesome shoulder.
He is now racing to be fit for the start of the Super Rugby season.
Despite his standout season, White still enjoyed a tough duel with Ian Prior for the Brumbies job. Now Swanepoel is throwing his hat in the ring as well.
''I came here to play and I'm going to work as hard as I can and do everything that I can to play and to start,'' Swanepoel said on Tuesday.
''That's why I'm here. [White and Prior are] good players and by no means will it be handed to anyone.
''[Brumbies coach] Jake [White]'s pretty adamant the best player will play and whoever works the hardest and proves themselves will be selected at halfback.''
Both his name and birth certificate suggest a South African heritage - the 22-year-old moved to the Gold Coast when he was 11 but any trace of a South African accent has been replaced by an Aussie one.
He represented Australia in schoolboys rugby and in the under-20s team, and has four Super Rugby caps, all with the Western Force.
Swanepoel then joined Canterbury for the ITM Cup and won a contract with the Crusaders for 2012.
But he was stuck behind Andrew Ellis and jumped at the chance to join Jake White's Brumbies. It has made him hungry to play every week.
''I was with Canterbury again this year but I didn't get to play because Andy Ellis didn't make the All Blacks, and then an opportunity came up here,'' Swanepoel said.
The squad has developed a distinct South African flavour. Jake White, Swanepoel, comeback kid Clyde Rathbone, prop Ruan Smith, lock Etienne Oosthuizen and centre Stephan Van Der Walt are all from the land of the Springbok.
The large number of Pacific Islanders at the Brumbies have formed a group known as ''The Community'' - and a smaller South African version seems to have sprung up as well.
''There's a bit of Afrikaans going around and we're going to have a braai [barbecue] on Friday night,'' Van Der Walt said.
He migrated from South Africa to Queensland about the same time Rathbone arrived in Australia.
Now Van Der Walt's a squad member alongside Rathbone.
Brumbies backs coach Steve Larkham said the pair's playing styles were similar - they preferred to run over the top of opponents rather than waste time going around them.
The 21-year-old member of the extended playing squad has set a more modest goal than Swanepoel of simply making his Super Rugby debut next year.
''I remember seeing [Rathbone] on TV when we first moved over here - it was about the same time he moved over here,'' Van Der Walt said.
''I remember seeing him on TV and saying how he was loving it in Australia and loved to play for Australia and I was the same.
''I'd love to represent Australia, it's been a dream, and I definitely look up to him.''