The highly-anticipated clash between the ACT Brumbies and NSW Waratahs headlines round five of the Asteron Life Super Rugby competition. We caught up with Qantas Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie to break down the clash.
ARU: We’ve got Australia’s two highest placed teams squaring off in Canberra on Saturday. As a coach, what areas will you focus on when watching the game?
Ewen: Anytime these two teams come together it’s always an extremely physical contest and you would expect no different on Saturday night. However, the reality with these derby games is that the players know their opposition and their tactics quite well, so it’s always interesting to see if teams can find a way to impose themselves.
Something you look for as Wallabies coach is to see which players can actually push through that familiarity and actually make a difference to the outcome.
You’re always looking for difference-makers and there is no better way to prove that by performing in difficult circumstances and in big games.
I always speak about consistency but these games do have a little added emotion as you’re also playing for bragging rights, ladder position and history. That all adds up to what is shaping up to be an extremely intriguing match-up, hopefully played in front of a vocal Canberra crowd.
ARU: You just mentioned the crowd. The Brumbies have an imposing record in Canberra and seem to lift another gear when playing in front of their home fans. Describe the impact ‘home-ground advantage’ has on a team?
Ewen: Home-ground advantage has become a worldwide phenomenon and there is no doubting it’s quite relevant. As an example, I was looking at stats from the end-of-season European tour matches last year and across all the games the home sides were receiving 42% more penalties. That’s significant.
At a Super Rugby level the Brumbies are historically very strong at home while the Reds in the past five years have only lost a handful of games. Teams lift when playing in front of their home fans and success at home can act as quite a motivator for the players. I’ve been fortunate to play in-front of a full-house in Canberra before and it can be quite daunting and loud, but the Waratahs won’t be daunted by that and they won’t enter the game with any reservations. The Reds in the opening round proved it isn’t impossible to win there.
ARU: You’ve always preached that winning isn’t always enough so you would have to be impressed by the way the Australian teams have approached their Rugby so far this year. Just how important is that to inspiring Rugby’s fans and getting them excited about the game?
Ewen: You only need to look at try-scoring statistics to notice that each of the Australian teams seem to be playing with more attacking intent this year. That’s encouraging as you need to be giving your fans value for money every time they show up. You can’t hide anymore from the fact that we are in the entertainment business.
We’re also in the business of inspiration and playing attractive Rugby is going to get more people coming to and playing the game. Winning while playing positive Rugby is the challenge and an obvious bonus, but you can’t be satisfied by saying that winning is enough.
How you inspire away from the field is equally important and I’m interested in seeing how teams and individuals engage our fan-base and stakeholders outside of just game day. We operate in a congested sporting marketplace and the emphasis needs to be for everyone on inspiring our next generation through their actions 24/7.