Lealiifano struck down but new-look Brumbies far from out
Christian Lealiifano gets high fives from his team mates while being taken off injured after the round 11 Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and the Waratahs at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
On a night when a man named Rocky earned the jeers of the crowd, it was poignant that an underdog force continued to rise.
The boos that echoed around Canberra Stadium for the return of Rocky Elsom turned to stunned silence only minutes later when star Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano was stretchered off.
Whether he deserves it or not, Elsom will be linked with the recent misfortunes of the Brumbies.
Lauded as one of the world's premier flankers when he arrived in 2010, the former Wallabies captain spent a lot of time on the sidelines and didn't live up to expectations.
The Brumbies faithful hardly shed a tear when he was part of the massive cleanout at the end of last season. And they gave him a reception as chilly as the fresh Autumn night from the moment he stripped off his Waratahs tracksuit early in the second half.
While they went for star power in the form of Elsom, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper a few years ago, this new breed of Brumbies are just about unrecognisable.
Scott Fardy was playing in Japan, Fotu Auluea was chewing croissants in Toulon while Jesse Mogg had been overlooked by the Brisbane Broncos.
Lealiifano sits somewhere in between. A bridge between both eras.
His own emergence has been the catalyst for the Brumbies not only to sit atop the Australian conference, but to earn something that most observers thought impossible within the first year of White's tenure - respect.
Lealiifano is the most capped player in the Brumbies back line since joining the club in 2008, but in a sense he hadn't found his permanent place.
Equally as talented at inside centre or at flyhalf, he had even dabbled at fullback, having a stint in New Zealand's provincial competition in 2010 to earn his stripes in the No.15 jersey.
Lealiifano told me in an interview during the pre-season that he wanted more responsibility and an increased leadership role.
That's exactly what Lealiifano has had this season, culminating in his clutch kick for the match-winning penalty goal after the siren against the Free State Cheetahs.
The season-ending knee injury to Matt Toomua in the round six loss to the Durban Sharks ensured that Lealiifano was the team's key playmaker.
He pulled the strings, got the back line firing, and in their two games in South Africa, the Brumbies crossed for 11 tries.
Lealiifano's accurate goalkicking will be missed after he suffered a suspected broken ankle against the Waratahs on Saturday night.
The Brumbies will call on either Robbie Coleman or Zach Holmes to fill the void at flyhalf.
Neither have much experience at Super Rugby level.
Injuries cripple the best of teams, just look at how the Queensland Reds took time to adjust to life without Quade Cooper.
But if there is any side which has been built to overcome adversity, it is this mob that White has assembled from scratch.
While the Brumbies haven't yet reverted to punching meat carcasses or running up steps in Philly, you sense there is still plenty of fight left in this beaten up side.
Poll: Will the ACT Brumbies make the Super Rugby finals without Christian Lealiifano?
- Yes. They've got enough cover to give the competition a real shake.
- No. With Toomua and Lealiifano gone, so are the Brumbies.
Total votes: 849.
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Poll closed 13 May, 2012
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