Brumbies cannot afford rigid game plan - Growden
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
February 13, 2014
Can the Brumbies go one better than in 2013? © Scrum.com
Brumbies' Super Rugby 2014 Squad
The Brumbies immediately after the Super Rugby 2013 grand final looked well placed to launch a strong bid to go one better in 2014; they still do, with David Pocock set to be back fit and firing, but the unexpected loss of coach Jake White, replaced by Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher in an unusual co-coaches set-up, and chief executive Andrew Fagan, and the impending departure of captain Ben Mowen, may yet prove to be destabilising issues. Greg Growden says they must also adopt something other than their rigid tactics of 2013 if they are to challenge for the title.
Last Season: second overall, first in Australian Conference; The Brumbies enjoyed 2013, making the grand final after reaching the play-offs for the first time since 2004. Jake White feared the season-ending loss of David Pocock in their third match of the season only to rejoice in his decision to recruit George Smith from Japan as the Wallabies veteran wrote one of the best stories of the year. Smith teamed with Mowen to lead the Brumbies to 46 tries and 430 points during the season, while the team under their leadership showed great ability to "play the defensive game" in the right areas: the Brumbies conceded the most penalties in the 2013 season (171), but ranked only eighth in amount of penalty goals conceded against them (24%) to indicate they did not give away too much in kicking range.
Greg Growden said of the Brumbies in 2013: "Defeat in Hamilton does not alter the fact the Brumbies produced an admirable season effort. The back-row, led by Ben Mowen, was their power source ... while Matt Toomua and Christian Leali'ifano were masters of the midfield. It's not a vintage Brumbies team, and it falls short of the legendary line-ups of a decade or so ago, but it's a reasonable alternative and it certainly knows everything about courage. Read more ...
Russell Barwick and Greg Growden look at the Australian Super Rugby conference
Key Man: Christian Leali'ifano was pivotal to the Brumbies' success last season, not least because he offered a New Zealand-style second playmaking option at No.12 but mostly because he tallied more points (233) than any player apart from Morne Steyn as the most prolific penalty kicker (58). A strong backline player, he links easily with Matt Toomua and combines well to put Jesse Mogg and prolific Henry Speight over the line. The Brumbies will miss him as he recovers from ankle surgery.
Key Stat: The Brumbies conceded 19 of their 36 tries to back-rowers (19) and centres (7), illustrating the areas in which they will hope to tighten their otherwise impressive defensive structures.
Rising Star: Jesse Mogg enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2013, scoring six tries and making more than 5000 kick metres; his strong and elusive running and raking boot proved essential to the territorial game plan and structure of Jake White. He missed three matches due to a shoulder injury, and underwent surgery at the end of the season, after three below-par Test efforts against the British & Irish Lions and New Zealand, but he expects to be fully fit for 2014 - when we expect he will be advantaged by what is expected to be slightly more adventurous play from the Brumbies under Larkham and Fisher. It's also worth noting that Jake White thought last year that Mogg was still several seasons from being ready for Test football.
Season Preview: The Brumbies under Jake White played finals-style football long before they reached the play-offs, but Larkham and Fisher have spoken of adopting slightly more adventure when the situation allows; such a combination of tactics - and, in truth, little needs to change - will ensure the Brumbies remain strong in the Australian Conference. Ben Mowen has developed into a calm and assured leader, a man who gets the most from his troops, and he'll hope to lift the championship trophy to ice his career in Canberra.
Greg Growden's verdict: Can one of the Brumbies' playing messiahs fill the void left by Jake the Snake? Stephen Larkham, the new Brumbies coach, has a tough gig, especially as Jake White succeeded in getting the Brumbies to the finals last year after seasons of wasted opportunities. As White's assistants, Larkham and Laurie Fisher were also instrumental in the Brumbies' 2013 rise - but White was able to take the pressure off both. Now Larkham, in particular, is in the spotlight, and hopefully he will see the Brumbies play with more adventure rather than being a kicking automaton, obsessed in belting the ball down field and playing the game in the opposition half. But most likely we will see more of the same rigid tactics in Canberra this year. That could easily bring them undone, especially as they were getting penalised more and more the longer 2013 went. The return of David Pocock, and whether he can find form immediately, will be crucial in determining where the Brumbies finish. Opponents now are more attuned to working out what the Brumbies are up to, and so Canberra's finest are unlikely to go much further than making the finals cut.
Tip: Second in Australian conference Finish: Sixth
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