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Brilliant Brumbies must be rewarded at the Wallabies selection table after superb quarter-final

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Expert
24th June, 2019
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What a pleasure and a relief to acclaim the brilliant 38-13 victory by the Brumbies over the Sharks. This was one of the best performances by an Australian Super Rugby side in years.

One of the more impressive aspects of the victory was that the Brumbies started with a plan and then executed it in a lethal manner from the beginning of the game to the finish.

A key element of the plan was the insight that the Sharks defended the area around the ruck with their props and second-rowers.

The sheer size and bulk of these players, in theory, exposed them to runners coming at pace and targeting their inside shoulders.

In theory and in practice, in fact.

In the opening seconds of the match, the Brumbies ran a hit-up play from a lineout and then used the soft hands and bulk of Rory Arnold (now Australia’s premier forward) to pop up a pass for a rampaging Pete Samu.

Samu tore through a massive hole in the defensive line and scored a sensational try after a minute or so of play.

I have always remembered the advice given by Earle Kirton, a gifted, ball-running number 10 for the All Blacks and later a selector, that the best time to run the ball is at the beginning of the game.

The opposition, he insisted, is still organising its defensive lines early on and are more vulnerable then than later in the match.

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But it takes a certain nervelessness and confidence in execution to do this, of course. The nervelessness and confidence that wins big matches. And it was food for the rugby-loving soul to see the Brumbies, in their biggest match of the season, pull off their killer move so successfully so early on.

Brumbies

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

They also were disciplined enough to keep the play in play at key times throughout the match.

The Sharks, for their part, came into the match with some expectations. They had won four matches and drawn another (against the Crusaders!) in their eight away matches.

The Brumbies scored their second try with another inside ball, this time from Scott Sio that led to a try by Henry Speight.

And towards the end of the match, halfback Joe Powell, who had a terrific game, ran from the ruck to score a bolter’s try that sealed the victory.

In the first 24 minutes, the Brumbies virtually won the match by scoring 24 points (a point a minute) to six by the Sharks. This 24 minutes was as good an exhibition of championship play as any Australian team has put on for some years.

If we take selection for the recent Wallabies starting sides as the measure, this Brumbies side was a no-names outfit.

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There was no David Pocock, who is regarded by most experts (but not me) as Australia’s best forward.

And none of the front-line Waratahs forwards and backs who have won favour from Michael Cheika even though they haven’t performed for the Waratahs or the Wallabies.

If there is any sense in the decisions by the national selectors they should be looking at an all-Brumbies front five for the Wallabies.

And there needs to be consideration of some inclusion of a Brumby loose forward in the Wallabies pack, as well.

I say this because Greg Clark came up with a fascinating statistic during his commentary: the Brumbies have not conceded a try throughout the season to an opposition rolling maul.

This defence against the rolling maul was a key part in the Brumbies victory over the Sharks, a big pack that specialises, like all the massive South African packs do, in destroying oppositions with their mauls.

The Brumbies, too, have a terrific rolling maul of their own.

The important point here is looking forward to the Rugby World Cup tournament in Japan later in the year is that the Wallabies have had a pop-gun rolling maul, on attack and defence.

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It is a pity that the coaching staff of the Wallabies does not have anyone connected with this current Brumbies side, although it is easily the best coached Australian side at the professional level.

Dan McKellar, the head coach, has revived the traditional Brumbies style, aggressive, inventive and rugged, on attack and defence, that was created so successfully by Rod Macqueen.

Dan McKellar

(Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

Laurie Fisher, the forwards coach of the Brumbies, has created a pack that does not seem to have a weakness. The scrum, lineout, fetching, tackling and mauls are all things of beauty to those who understand these things.

And Peter Hewat, one of my favourite players in his heyday, is developing a backline that is aggressive, resourceful, skilful and urgent in the pursuit of scoring tries.

Again, as with the forwards, there should be a strong representation of Brumbies in the Wallabies backline.

I wouldn’t go as far as Stephen Larkham and his call a couple of years ago that the entire backline should comprise Brumbies.

But you would hope that Tom Banks and Joe Powell now move to starting positions in a new Australian backline and their Waratahs counterparts are allowed to fade away from the international scene.

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There is a possible or, more likely, an improbable outcome from their semi-final against the Jaguares of a home final at Canberra if the Brumbies win in Buenos Aires and the Hurricanes defeat the Crusaders at Christchurch.

If both these outcomes occur, then the Brumbies would have a home final.

But first things first, they have to defeat the Jaguares who showed resilience and some flair in defeating the Chiefs.

I noticed, though, that the Jaguares lineout was excellent and its scrum was so weak that when offered the choice of a lineout or a scrum the lineout option was taken.

How the Brumbies coaches and players shape their tactics to punish what looks like a serious weakness in Jaguares set-piece play will be worth watching.

What with the terrific Brumbies victory and the gutsy, thrilling narrow loss by the excellent Junior Wallabies in the World Rugby Under-20 tournament, this was a splendid week for the rugby game on the field in Australia.