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Remembering the Brumbies' Lion tamers

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Roar Guru
17th June, 2019
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The Moon landing, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11… these are all events that I can remember exactly where I was when they happened. There is one other, and I remember it vividly to this day.

It was 18 June 2013, a Tuesday night when I was travelling with work so I sat with a couple of beers and a Reds fan from Brisbane watching TV in the Glen Innes and District Services Club.

Only two of us were watching. Everyone else was down the other end of the room watching the Socceroos play Iraq to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. What we saw was a bunch of young men make a splash on the national stage.

It was the night the baby Brumbies beat the British and Irish Lions.

The result encapsulates everything the Brumbies mean to me. It’s about what makes us a fan of our team, whichever that team may be.

I have followed the Brumbies since 1996, yet I have never lived in Canberra. I have played rugby in Australia, England, Wales, Zimbabwe and Zambia and strangely enough it was that last country that brought me to the Brumbies.

I arrived in Australia in 1991 and watched that World Cup with great interest, and although I had torn loyalties, I decided to start following the Wallabies, the team of my newly adopted home.

Three years later, in 1994, I was watching the Bledisloe Cup with my dad when a young George Gregan made that try-saving tackle on Jeff Wilson. My dad turned to me and said: “You know he was born in Zambia, don’t you?”

I had no idea, but as I had grown up there from the age of seven, George became my favourite player. It was only natural therefore that when Super Rugby began, I followed him, so ACT Brumbies it was for me.

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I was living and working in Sydney at the time, so I was able to watch them on the TV and go to the games in Sydney. I had to watch all the early successes and great years from afar until 2009, when my wife and I started to go to home games regularly from the Central Coast of NSW.

The first game we went to still sticks in my mind to this day. It poured with rain, we got absolutely soaked, but we didn’t care. It was the night the Brumbies family paid tribute to Shawn Mackay, who had just died during the tour of South Africa.

It showed me that the Brumbies are just that: a family. Players, staff and supporters alike.

Since then, we have barely missed a home game. We lived through the misery of 2011, and I was about to call it a day on our membership and go back to watching them on TV until Jake White was announced as coach.

Jake White as Brumbies coach

(AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The 2012 season showed improvement, then there was that game on Tuesday, 18 June 2013.

We had our season tickets as usual that year, but I knew I was likely to be away and driving an eight-hour round trip for a mid-week game that we would most likely lose didn’t seem very appealing.

How wrong I was.

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People will point out that the Lions were not at full strength, but neither were the Brumbies with several players in Wallabies camp. But hey, you can only beat who is in front of you, and that isn’t in the history books.

This is how the team lined up.

1. Ruan Smith
2. Siliva Siliva
3. Scott Sio
4. Leon Power
5. Sam Carter
6. Scott Fardy
7. Colby Fainga’a
8. Peter Kimlin (c)
9. Ian Prior
10. Matt To’omua
11. Clyde Rathbone
12. Andrew Smith
13. Tevita Kuridrani
14. Henry Speight
15. Jesse Mogg

Reserves
16. Josh Mann-Rea
17. JP Smith
18. Chris Cocca
19. Etienne Oosthuizen
20. Jordan Smiler
21. Mark Swanepoel
22. Robbie Coleman
23. Zack Holmes

I actually remember very little of the match itself, except for that lovely floated pass from Mogg to Smith to set up Tevita for the only try of the game, and Oosthuizen booting the ball into touch after the siren… not bad for a tall second-rower!

It was all about who the Brumbies are as a team and an organisation, the little brother who keeps punching above their weight, delivering beyond most people’s expectations.

I do however have an enduring souvenir of the game though, Henry Speight’s signed game jersey!

Henry Speight looks on for the Brumbies (photo: John Youngs photography)

(Photo John Youngs photography)

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Later that year, of course, we made the Super Rugby final in Hamilton. We didn’t get the goods, but again, not many people thought we would beat the Bulls on the highveld to get there, and if Aaron Cruden hadn’t pulled off that tackle on Rathbone is one of the great what-ifs.

It’s why we as fans love our chosen sport and team.

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Today is the sixth anniversary of that win against the Lions, but more importantly, this year sees the departure of some great and much loved Brumbies players, amongst them Sam Carter and Henry Speight.

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Both of them played that day, as did Josh Mann-Rea, whose return from injury is uncertain.

Other notable departures are of course Rory Arnold and David Pocock, and the one man who epitomises what it is to be a Brumby – Christian Lealiifano – also announcing his decision to leave.

But most of all, at Saturday’s game against the Reds, the 2009 team got back together to remember Shawn Mackay and present his family with his cap that he never got to wear.

Many of them were mingling with us at the pub beforehand, happy to chat and have photos. They were on the same bus as the fans on the way to the ground.

That is what being a member of the Brumbies family means to me. It involves all of us – players, staff and fans alike.

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I’m sure many of you will feel the same about your team, for your own reasons. It is what makes sport great.

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