The Brumbies have been playing Super Rugby finals for more years than they ever have, but there are still a few fun things to find in their history.
I knew they lost their last final appearance over the ditch, as I myself had tipped Wellington in 2015, and they obviously also lost the 2013 final in Hamilton. And I saw them lose the 1997 final in Auckland in a pub somewhere, less than 12 months after I moved to Canberra.
But it wasn’t until diving into the history books on Sunday for a report on ABC Sport TV that I realized the enormity of the task ahead of them this weekend in Auckland.
I had a good idea that they didn’t win a final match in Auckland, and indeed they lost both the 1997 final and the 2003 semi-final. But that’s a bit more only that. In five attempts in Super Rugby’s 27-year history, the Brumbies have failed to win a final match in New Zealand.
I mean, they are two out of two in South Africa in the last ten years!
But there is everything except the fear of crossing the gap this weekend, to face the Blues in Auckland. Indeed, they expect to get the job done and win a ninth final. There is already a determination about them.
Hearing them speak after Saturday night’s game, that belief is as clear as it is obvious. I interviewed Nic White on the pitch after the game on our radio call, asked him three quick questions and he talked for six minutes! Super excited, super excited, super pumped to extend the season at least one more week.
The Brumbies were annoyed to let the latecomer try before halftime, but the Hurricanes saw it as due reward. The tide certainly turned in the second half, with the Brumbies getting far more impact from a much more experienced bench, and that was reflected in the visitors’ comments after the game.
“In that second half, we gave the Brumbies the chance to get the field position they wanted, probably because of some of our mistakes,” Jason Holland said at the press conference. .
“But it’s really knockout football, you do things really well for 45, 50 minutes and that’s not enough.”
They were interesting comments at the time, but not as interesting as they were when I finally got to watch the full replay of the game on Sunday night.
“Ideally we do less in the second half thanks to good discipline. If we can win the battle for territory, get some possession – as we’ve seen, we’ll hurt them if we get to the right end of the field,” Dan McKellar said at halftime on the cover of Stan Sport, in response to questioning how well their defense held up in the first half, save for the slip that left full-back Josh Moorby for his second try just before the break.
So what Holland saw as the Canes’ biggest problem as the game eluded them after the break was exactly what McKellar said needed to happen as his team ran out for the second half. .
And there were obviously other factors too; TJ Perenara certainly didn’t look 100% fit, and Jordie Barrett going for an HIA didn’t help either. Within about ten minutes of these two towering figures fading away, the Hurricanes’ form completely crumbled. In the roughly fifteen minutes Barrett was out, the Brumbies added 10 points to lead by three – and Noah Lolesio also saved a second penalty.
After the game, McKellar and skipper Allan Ala’alatoa were quick to credit the impact of their bench in the last half hour and how they resolved to run when a man was down leaving as many players as possible standing on the defensive. line, rather than engaging in the ruck.
But looking ahead to next week, the determination shines through in their words.
McKellar: “We are going to Auckland very confident. We thought we should have won this game a few weeks ago, and there’s a huge amount of respect for them, they’ve got threats across the park, but we think we’ve got the game to challenge them, and we’ll prepare you good at this all week.
Ala’alatoa: “This is just the beginning for us. A huge challenge next week, and a lot of belief that we have to build from this game, but just do what we have to do this week and carry on with huge confidence.
Unbeknownst to us at the press conference at the time, the Brumbies mentor had clearly impressed former Wallabies manager-turned-Stan Sport analyst Michael Cheika with a similar sentiment 10 or 15 minutes earlier.
“It will be no different. You watch tonight’s game, and the conditions, there’s a lot of dew around; Auckland will be the same,” McKellar said of the approach to the semi-final at Eden Park.
“It’s a chore, isn’t it, football finals. There’s not a lot of great rugby going on, so we’re going in really confident.
Watching it on Sunday, you could see Cheika’s ears prick up when McKellar said it.
“He has to plan already, he said it right there: finals football is a chore,” Cheika said.
“I think about it in different ways, but if you think about the game ahead, that’s exactly what he wants.
“Because the Blues don’t want to cheat. They want power, explosiveness, they want backshots and Beauden Barrett running into holes, and if the Brumbies can make a grind of it, that can really, really work in their favor.
“The coach seems to have it in mind already, and that means he already has the training and the basics of how he wants to try and win that semi-final next weekend.”
Of course, saying it is one thing, but doing it is another.
But it’s interesting to hear an Australian team talk about not just going out there and wanting to compete, but going out there knowing they already have the plans in place to get the job done.
The Brumbies beat the Chiefs well in Hamilton in Round 12, and are definitely still recovering from the loss to Moana Pacifika in Mount Smart in the final round before the final.
Their set piece is working well, their trouble shooting is solid, and Laurie Fisher raves about their collision dominance after full-time Saturday night. They’ve made changes to their roster every week this year and have used 34 players – but haven’t introduced a new player since Round 7. Everyone knows their role.
So now they just have to go “over there” and continue.
But already, it is clear that it will not be for lack of effort or desire.