Brumbies utility Nigel Ah Wong is forward about going back in Super Rugby

Brumbies utility Nigel Ah Wong is forward about going back in Super Rugby

ACT Brumbies utility Nigel Ah Wong could be excused for not knowing whether he's coming or going, or even who he's going to have coffee with, as he adds new meaning to flexibility in rugby.

And Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham believes having backs that can pack down in a scrum gives "added benefit", especially in "big games".

Nigel Ah Wong makes a break and scores against the Waratahs.

Nigel Ah Wong makes a break and scores against the Waratahs.

Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Ah Wong started his career as a flanker, but the Brumbies have converted him into an outside back and centre.

But the 25-year-old has found himself returning to his roots in recent weeks for the Brumbies, packing down in scrums in both of their two Super Rugby games this season.

In the Brumbies' 32-15 win over the NSW Waratahs at Canberra Stadium on Friday night, he showed both his incarnations in the space of just two minutes.


First, he was his old self, coming on for lock Jordan Smiler in the 78th minute and immediately packing down in the back row of the scrum.

Then he showed the new Ah Wong, providing support to winger Joe Tomane as part of a line of three backs.

Tomane's no-look pass over his head landed in Ah Wong's lap and he showed speed a flanker would dream about to race away to ice the game.

Given the backs and forwards do a lot of things separately, including drinking coffee, he could be excused for not knowing where he's meant to be.

Ah Wong said that versatility was something he wanted to capitalise on as he tries to cement his spot in the 23, with the Brumbies travelling to Perth to play the Western Force on Friday night.

It's not the first time he's packed a scrum this season, having also filled in against the Wellington Hurricanes when David Pocock was in the sin bin.

"I think it was Jordy that went down, I think he copped a cut on his head. There I went, slotted into the back row, familiar territory, but I had to ask the boys to show me where to go for a bit," he said.

"I wasn't on for long so I try to make the most of the time I was on there.

"It's not something I practice, but it's something I keep in the back of my mind in case these kind of moments come. Fortunately for me it's happened twice now, so getting a bit more experienced there and the wing as well.

"It helps my case a bit that I can cover a few positions. As long as I'm on the field and slotting in and playing well I'm happy with that."

For Larkham it means he can pick a more flexible eight-man bench. Instead of having to decide whether to have five forwards or six, he can go with the five and use Ah Wong to cover both.

It was in contrast with the Waratahs, who took in six back-up forwards.

Larkham praised Ah Wong's finishing – he felt there was still plenty for his flanker-cum-winger-cum-flanker to do when the ball bounced his way.

He said Ah Wong wasn't the only back that could make a similar switch to the scrum.

"We saw last week against the Hurricanes [Ah Wong] didn't touch the ball, but was energetic and enthusiastic and chased a lot of stuff down," Larkham said.

"[Friday night] he was enthusiastic again, gets his hands on the ball and finishes really well. There was still a bit to do there when he got the ball.

"​It's something to consider down the track in these big games, it's so physical it takes a toll on forwards and I guess we're lucky because we've got Andrew Smith and Nigel Ah Wong, who can both play on the side of the scrum if needed, or in the lineout.


"Nige has played there before obviously at a good level, Smithy can just fill in. I think that gives us a bit of added benefit in that we don't have to go a 6-2 bench we can go a 5-3 with that coverage.

"You don't want to be putting your backs into forwards, but we're lucky that we can give a bit of coverage to the forwards."

David Polkinghorne

David Polkinghorne covers the Canberra Raiders, local rugby league, Canberra Cavalry, racing and cycling, along with every other sport, for The Canberra Times.

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