The Brumbies may have removed ‘ACT’ from their name, but what will it take for the Canberra public to revive its passion and tribalism for its football teams?
Just two days out from their first final in nine years, fewer than 13,000 tickets have been sold for the Brumbies do-or-die clash with the Cheetahs at Canberra Stadium.
And the Raiders have also struggled to fill the stands despite winning its last 11 games at home, including all seven this season.
Is it the cold, inclement weather? Is the comfort of sitting on the couch out of the elements to watch the game live on Fox Sports too tempting to resist?
Are ticket prices too high? Is juggling junior sport commitments and attending a Brumbies or Raiders game on the same weekend not time friendly?
Does our expat population’s home state allegiances affect our ability to unite as one?
Is it a combination of all of the above?
Brumbies coach Jake White, from rugby-mad South Africa, remains bemused the tickets haven’t sold like hot cakes.
A Canberra Stadium-record 28,753 fans packed the stands in 2004 when the Brumbies beat the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final at Canberra Stadium.
The city was decked in blue and gold, the only ticket in town as the community took ownership of their team.
Back then the side was littered with legends like George Gregan, Stephen Larkham, Matt Giteau and Joe Roff.
The Wallabies were in the midst of one of their most successful eras. They were winning, and the crowds responded.
After restoring itself as a Super Rugby heavyweight after years of hardship, the Brumbies don’t deserve to run out in a half empty stadium.
The Brumbies circa-2013 has less household names, a lower profile bunch who have embraced Jake White’s no-nonsense culture.
And yes, this isn’t a grand final, and the South African sides are traditional poor drawers in Canberra. But surely they deserve far more support than they’re receiving?
This year they have scored 11 more tries than Queensland, regarded as one of the competition’s most attractive attacking teams, in winning the Australian conference title.
They average 28 points a game and comprise a back-line brimming with young, game-breaking talent.
Last year 24,450 fans watched the Raiders beat the Sharks 34-16 in a cut-throat final at Canberra Stadium.
They won eight of their last ten matches to earn a home semi. Plenty of fans who had given up hope a couple of months earlier were caught up in the euphoria of their fairy tale run.
The Brumbies run to the finals this year has been less dramatic. They’ve been flying high all season, and haven’t needed a backs-to-the-wall revival which had the city wrapped in ‘Green Machine’ fever in 2012.
Are the Brumbies suffering from a fan ‘let-down’ after the excitement surround the Wallabies-Lions series?
Last week’s poor loss to Western Force was their first Super Rugby game in a month. Supporters may be struggling to re-focus on club football, a let-down of sorts.
Rugby is also suffering from a perception amongst the wider community it’s ‘boring’. The non-hardcore fans, or fly-by-nighters, bemoan the penalty goal shoot-outs some games become, the constant stoppages in play and repacked scrums.
But the Brumbies have qualified for their biggest game in nearly a decade by playing attacking, running rugby.
There’s also plenty of sub-plots within this Brumbies side which should translate to bums on seats.
There’s Jesse Mogg, a newly-capped Wallaby plucked from obscurity playing in the local competition just last year.
There’s club legend George Smith, who is preparing for his likely Canberra Stadium swansong. There’s Clyde Rathbone, who made a comeback this year after retiring through injury in 2009, and a subsequent depression battle.
Yes, single figure maxiumum temperatures are tipped for Canberra on Sunday.
But after restoring itself as a Super Rugby heavyweight after years of hardship, the Brumbies don’t deserve to run out in a half empty stadium.
It’s time to rug up, rediscover our tribalism and, unofficially, put ‘ACT’ back into the Brumbies.
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