Brumbies 2018 season preview

Fionn Roar Guru

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    Looking ahead to season 2018, the Brumbies’ back row looks like their biggest strength.

    Strengths

    Back row
    David Pocock is the best player Australia has produced since George Smith and – along with Thierry Dusautoir – the only open-side flanker rated anywhere near Richie McCaw’s equal.

    A menace at the breakdown, Pocock has a high work-rate in rucking, counter-rucking and in defence. He is also a good link-man, as he is able and willing to pass far more than Australia’s other open-side flankers.

    With his year away from Australian rugby, Pocock has had a chance to overcome any long-term niggling injuries – rather like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer did – and to work on alternative aspects of his game in Japan.

    Pocock is almost certain to start at open-side and will be the most important player in the team, allowing the Brumbies to dominate the breakdown in almost every match.

    Other than the exceptional Amanaki Mafi, the 195cm, 110kg Isi Naisarani was Australia’s form back-rower in 2017. A powerful ball-carrier in the tight, including off the back of a scrum, Naisarani is also a primary lineout target.

    The 193cm, 113kg Rob Valetini was a breakout star for the Vikings in this year’s NRC. Despite being only 19 years old, he demonstrated the ability to physically dominate opponents in the tackle – often making hits that dislodged the ball, or holding the carrier up – and also made serious metres. Valetini is not yet a great lineout target, but he will spend a lot of time working on his technique in the future.

    Between Tom Cusack, Lolo Fakaosilea, Lachlan McCaffrey and Ben Hyne, the ACT side have plenty of depth and can tend more towards ball-carriers, ruck specialists, link-men and line out targets depending on what is preferred.

    Tight five
    This has been a strength since the Jake White days, with one of the best scrums in the entire competition for years.

    I do not see this changing with Scott Sio returning to form, another year of development for Allan Alaalatoa, and Ben Alexander scrummaging so well.

    In addition to these three core players, Mees Erasmus, Nic Mayhew and Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin provide depth.

    The second-row is full of tall timber. In addition to the 208cm, 120kg Rory Arnold, the Brumbies have gained his 208cm, 127kg twin, Richie Arnold, going with the 200cm, 116kg set-piece orientated Sam Carter.

    Hooker is a slightly less strong position. Josh Mann-Rea is now 36 and his best might be behind him. Robbie Abel is a fine but unspectacular option, while Folau Fainga’a has potential based on his NRC performance, but is still young and untested.

    That said, the strength of the Brumbies’ props and height of the second and back-row options will take a lot of pressure off the hooker in both the lineout and scrum.

    Outside backs
    Tom Banks is a future star. He is great under the high ball, possesses an incredible turn of speed, as well as strength through contact, has an eye for the tryline and putting himself in scoring positions (a strength in itself), and is solid in defence.

    Joining him will likely be Henry Speight, who is always effective at Super Rugby level, and Chance Peni, who looked devastating for the Western Force before being injured.

    Defence
    The returning Christian Lealiifano is top-class defender. While offering almost nothing in attack in 2017, Kyle Godwin is an incredible defender at 12, and Tevita Kuridrani is one of the world’s best in the 13 channel.

    Despite his small size, Joe Powell makes most of his tackles, and the pack are strong, especially in the back-row.

    So wing is the only questionable area.

    Goal kicking
    Lealiifano, along with Jono Lance, has been the best goal and tactical kicking fly-half in Australia for years.

    Christian Lealiifano Brumbies Rugby Union Super Rugby 2016

    AAP Image/David Moir

    Weaknesses

    10-12 axis and attack
    While Lealiifano can play either position extremely well, I was unimpressed with Wharenui Hawera in both Super Rugby and the NRC, while Godwin far too often killed his side’s attack when he got the ball in 2017.

    The 10-12 appear unable to utilise their outside backs, even when the forwards generate good front-foot ball, seeing them lose games they should win.

    Lealiifano will hopefully bring some of the required spark, but too often in recent years the Brumbies have looked out of ideas in the opposition 22.

    That said, new coach Dan McKellar has said that improving the attack is one of his priorities.

    The Brumbies’ attack looked much better in 2017 once Tom Banks replaced Aidan Toua, and with the addition of Peni the team has another great option, so hopefully the points flow in 2018.

    Preferred 23
    1. Scott Sio
    2. Robbie Abel / Josh Mann-Rea
    3. Allan Alaalatoa
    4. Rory Arnold
    5. Sam Carter
    6. Rob Valetini
    7. David Pocock
    8. Isi Naisarani
    9. Joe Powell
    10. Christian Lealiifano
    11. Chance Peni
    12. Kyle Godwin
    13. Tevita Kuridrani
    14. Henry Speight
    15. Tom Banks

    16. Folau Fainga’a
    17. Nic Mayhew
    18. Ben Alexander
    19. Richie Arnold
    20. Tom Cusack
    21. Matt Lucas
    22. Wharenui Hawera
    23. James Dargaville

    Full squad
    Hookers: Robbie Abel, Folau Fainga’a, Josh Mann-Rea

    Props: Allan Alaaltoa, Scott Sio, Ben Alexander, Mees Erasmus, Nic Mayhew, Faalelei Sione, Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin

    Second row: Richie Arnold, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Blake Enever, Darcy Swain

    Back row: David Pocock, Isi Naisarani, Rob Valetini, Tom Cusack, Lolo Fakaosilea, Lachlan McCaffrey, Ben Hyne

    Halfbacks: Joe Powell, Matt Lucas, Ryan Lonergan

    Fly-halves: Christian Lealiifano, Wharenui Hawera, Jordan Jackson-Hope, Mack Hansen

    Centres: Tevita Kuridrani, Kyle Godwin, Andrew Smith

    Wings: Henry Speight, Chance Peni, Lausii Taliauli, Andrew Muirhead

    Fullbacks: Tom Banks

    Utility backs: James Dargaville, James Verity-Amm