Brumbies 2018 season preview

Fionn Roar Guru

By Fionn, Fionn is a Roar Guru

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144 Have your say

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


    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.

    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


    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

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    The Crowd Says (144)

    • December 6th 2017 @ 4:47am
      Riddler said | December 6th 2017 @ 4:47am | ! Report

      Looks like a very nice team..

      Can’t wait for pocock to come back..

      Have had no news from Japan nor have sort out any. . But no news is good news in regards to poey..

      Cll is not going great guns up here despite people pushing him back down south.. missed a sitter on the weekend which would have avoided the draw..

      He is still settling in after his illness so with a few more games at ulster and some super rugby under his belt hopefully he will pushing for a gold jersey..

      • December 6th 2017 @ 12:12pm
        Fionn said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

        Think we will ahve to agree to disagree on how poor CLL has been. Saw that missed kick – absolute shocker! That said, he scored the try to draw the game, and I’ve seen him play some excellent games for Ulster. There is a reason they were keen for him to stay on.

        If he plays well in Super Rugby I really hope he is considered for 10 or 12. After Lance he is the best goal-kicker in Australia when on form. Very good tackler even at 12.

        • December 7th 2017 @ 1:15pm
          Selector said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

          Hey Fionn

          Nice work all round. I am very excited and optimistic about the Brumbies next year.

          I hope above you have named the 2 options for the Wallabies 10 position next year.

    • December 6th 2017 @ 7:46am
      nickbrisbane said | December 6th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

    • December 6th 2017 @ 8:48am
      R2k said | December 6th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

      I think the brumbies have improved, but I don’t think they’re world beaters nor are they as strong as you seem to suggest. The 5/1 split of strengths v weaknesses I think is too much.
      Other potential weaknesses could be chemistry between untested combinations (see back row), the new coach (Larkham had been brilliant for them) and I also worry about their depth. A couple of key injuries to players like Pocock, Powell and Kuridrani and the Brumbies would be in trouble. Fingers crossed the Aussies in the conference but the kiwis are still ludicrously strong.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 9:12am
        Fionn said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

        I think when analysing Super Rugby you have to basically analyse it compared to your own conference. I am pretty certain that either the Brumbies or the Rebels will top the conference. Of course many of the Kiwi teams have better squads—Crusaders and Hurricanes definitely and Highlanders and Chiefs possibly.

        I agree, too, on the lack of depth at halfback particularly. An injury to Powell would be really bad. Other than that, I am not too worried about your concerns. Andrew Smith could slot into 13 decently enough given how good the 10 and 12 are at defending.

        The bulk of the squad are returning players as opposed to having to integrate a lot of new ones. I disagree that Larkham has necessarily been brilliant. I think he has been a lot better than people give him credit for, and I think that he will eventually make a very good coach of the Wallabies, but he was very inexperienced when thrust into the head coaching role in 2014. An injury to Pocock would be horrendous as Pocock is so good, but Tom Cusack looked the goods in the NRC and I think he would make a fine backup.

        McKellar has been defence coach since 2014, and the Brumbies’ defence has been one of the best in the comp during this time. Fisher is returning also. I think there is more continuity than you give credit for.

        Also, small correction: I snuck in two weaknesses in one—(1) attack and (2) the 10-12.

        • December 6th 2017 @ 11:06pm
          R2k said | December 6th 2017 @ 11:06pm | ! Report

          Thanks for your comment and apologies for the late reply. Work is painful.

          Fair points across the board. I think Larkham has been brilliant in regards to certainly improving on my own expectations for the brumbies every year.

          On McKellar, I now look at the tahs and the reds as examples of a promotion from within the current squad of coaches – neither of which set the world on fire. Touch wood this will be something completely different.

          I haven’t seen a lot of the backups play (or if I have they didn’t leave me with a good enough impression to commit their names to memory) but I’m sure they’ve been named in the squad for a reason.

          Fisher will be good to have back.

          And my deepest apologies. I blame the early morning start for my lack of comprehension.

          • Roar Guru

            December 7th 2017 @ 11:04am
            PeterK said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:04am | ! Report

            agree coach HAS to to be seen as a weakness.

            Just for the fact that he is not proven as a head coach, even at lower levels.

        • December 7th 2017 @ 1:32pm
          Selector said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

          Hey Fionn I would like to see Peni as the back up 13, I think he would be devastating there to be honest. But spot on that Smith is a more than useful back up in 12 or 13.

    • Roar Guru

      December 6th 2017 @ 9:07am
      Machooka said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:07am | ! Report

      Fionn… hee haw, hee haw, he always calls me donkey!

      Good read. Solid squad. Lots to look forward to eh!?!

      • December 6th 2017 @ 12:14pm
        Fionn said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

        I’m pretty positive outside of a few positions, Machooka. Then again, I thought we were a potential title winner in 2016 and that really didn’t go to plan, soooo not getting ahead of myself…

        • December 7th 2017 @ 7:43pm
          cuw said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:43pm | ! Report

          @ Fionn

          am sure this is gonna make a lot of people happy 😀

          World Rugby introduces simplified rule book

          The new simplified law book is:
          – Shorter – it is almost half the length of the previous book (42 per cent shorter).
          – Easier to read – it features plain language with fewer subordinate clauses
          – More logical – the laws have been rearranged to make them more logical and sequential with contradictions and repetitions removed.
          – Easier to understand – it now scores 7.26 in the Gunning Fog Index compared to 10.6 previously. Those numbers roughly equate to years of formal education required to understand the book fully.
          – Easier to translate into other languages.

          • Roar Guru

            December 8th 2017 @ 10:12am
            PeterK said | December 8th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

            so I learnt and understood the old law book in detail in a season but it was supposed to take 10 years of formal study!

          • December 8th 2017 @ 10:18am
            Fionn said | December 8th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report


            Cheers, cuw. Hopefully this makes it easier for new players to get into the game!

    • Roar Guru

      December 6th 2017 @ 9:20am
      Diggercane said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      Thank you for the run down Fionn. This squad should be in the mix.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 12:15pm
        Fionn said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

        Not as good as the Canes though, I think 🙂 . Although I hear Shields may be headed overseas after this year? That’d be a big loss if true.

        • Roar Guru

          December 6th 2017 @ 2:02pm
          Diggercane said | December 6th 2017 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

          Dunno mate, I am really excited about the Canes next year, a lot of promising up and comers but we will see, I am very wary of the Crusaders and the Chiefs, if the Chiefs halves come on well then they have a very good side. Yes, Shields is off to Wasps after the Super season, a real shame but with Fifita in the squad we have cover at least moving forward.

        • Roar Guru

          December 7th 2017 @ 11:06am
          PeterK said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:06am | ! Report

          Good writeup.

          I honestly expect only the winner of the Oz conference to make the finals.

          IMO it is between Rebels (who have the better coach) and Brumbies.

          • December 7th 2017 @ 11:20am
            Fionn said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

            Peter, hmmm, I would say the Rebels probably have the better coach, because McKellar is yet unproven. He has done a great job as defensive coach of the Brumbies though, so only time will tell how good he is.

            I honestly think it is possible for two Australian teams to make the finals. Unlikely, but possible.

            • Roar Guru

              December 7th 2017 @ 12:19pm
              PeterK said | December 7th 2017 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

              Head coach is a lot lot different to defence coach.

              • December 7th 2017 @ 1:03pm
                Fionn said | December 7th 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

                Yeah, and he might end up being garbage.

                But since we do not yet know McKellar’s qualities as a head coach we do not know whether Wessels is a better coach.

              • Roar Guru

                December 7th 2017 @ 3:59pm
                PeterK said | December 7th 2017 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

                Aust rugby is terrible at developing coaches.

                McKellar has never coached o/s, all that he has learnt is within australia. Very insular. Aust rugby’s track record on their coaches in general is poor.

                Wessels learnt most of his coaching trade within SA or under SA coaches.

              • December 7th 2017 @ 6:21pm
                Akari said | December 7th 2017 @ 6:21pm | ! Report

                Totally agree on coach development in Oz, PK.

                I think that the Guru in the Fisher man will be the key coach for the Brumbies. I am so glad he’s come home and McKellar and the Brumbies will be reaping the benefits of Fisher’s return.

                Tom Cusack is the find for the Brumbies, ie if he is able to transfer his NRC form to super rugby as he did in the 7s.

    • December 6th 2017 @ 9:53am
      Cam said | December 6th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Just for LOLs should do a Force season Preview.

      • December 6th 2017 @ 12:22pm
        Eeds said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

        Here you go!

        Force preview:

        No players
        No coach
        No competition

        9999999999999999999999999999999-1 chance of premiership this year

        • Roar Rookie

          December 6th 2017 @ 12:38pm
          piru said | December 6th 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

          So roughly the same odds they gave us last year

          • December 7th 2017 @ 7:47pm
            cuw said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:47pm | ! Report

            which only justifies the decision to kill them 😛

            • Roar Rookie

              December 8th 2017 @ 3:04pm
              piru said | December 8th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

              Significantly exceeding the preseason expectations justifies killing them?

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