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After topping the Australian conference for the last two years – although you can hardly call a 6-9 season successful – and recruiting reasonably well, you would expect much better performances than what the Brumbies have demonstrated this year.
Frustratingly the team shows no signs of improving as the season progresses and continue to roll out an ineffective game plan, playing as individuals without coherent structure and a poor attitude.
A sign of a good team is scoring just before or after half-time or not conceding points in that time. The Brumbies did just the opposite on Saturday night, letting in a soft try right on half-time to lose momentum at the break, and then they couldn’t convert 15 minutes of sustained pressure in the Rebels 22 just after half-time.
Achieving this is about attitude, and in this instance a lack of on-field leadership contributes.
Compare the collective mindset of the Crusaders against the Waratahs on Saturday to the Brumbies effort. Down 0-29, the hard work, passion and determination in refusing to let the game get away, including three tries in the lead up to half-time, was incredible to watch. The Brumbies on the other hand, up 21-5 after a really good start to the game, became passive and just let the game roll on, expecting to win it without working for it.
Assumption might be a better descriptor than expectation – the Crusaders expected to win too, but that’s because they refuse to accept defeat and they work, work, work to make sure it happens. There is a reason the Kiwi teams turn 21 points in the first half into 50 by the end of the game – it is not just down to skill, it’s largely to do with attitude, hard work, fitness and belief.
This team has great players, so the issue isn’t one of talent; it’s being unable to create opportunities for them. There is continual poor execution at set piece, especially line-out throwing; lateral running from the inside backs, and Wharenui Hawera is particularly guilty of this; one-out hit ups from a standing start; and passing behind the player.
The basics skills are not focused on enough. It’s not acceptable to practise until you get it right once; you need to practise until you never get it wrong.
This season is now a write-off, so the changes for next season need to start now. There needs to be a review of every aspect of on and off-field practice.
The team needs a new captain, and Tom Cusack may be a good option as he seems to bring the enthusiasm and follow me attitude that few others are showing. I would work really hard to recruit a decent flyhalf or bring in the next generation.
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The game plan needs to focus on creating space for the outside backs and to get Tevita Kuridrani, Henry Speight and Tom Banks into the game. That means inside backs running straight, forwards and taking the ball at full pace, starting from depth and working in groups. There is no variation at the moment and the defence has no need to make a decision because the attack is so predictable and one-dimensional.
Ultimately the problem is accepting mediocrity, and that has been the root of the problems plaguing Australia rugby in general. Obviously the systems aren’t working, because results have been poor for too long. But where is the leadership to say we need to change, identifying the problems and working as a collective to implement improvement?
Without change the professional game will collapse in Australia. The dismal crowd of 5283 last night is evidence of this. The organisation needs to live up to its name as a professional team and lift the standards in all departments. Individuals need to really think about the effort they put in.
I will keep coming to games because I love the club and the game of rugby union. I can also accept losing if the team plays well and represents the club’s history. But neither of these are happening right now and so the public is tuning out. There are still plenty of people out there keen to support the club, but they need to show us something worthy supporting.