He’s only a few weeks beyond his 26th birthday, and by the end of the 2017 season, he could be pushing up towards the very top echelon of names on the Brumbies’ Most Capped list, but some honest introspection has Robbie Coleman ready to fulfill his abundant potential.
At the end of an otherwise garden-variety press conference last Friday, in the lead-up to the 2015 Buildcorp NRC Final replay with Brisbane City, University of Canberra Vikings flyhalf Robbie Coleman dropped a bombshell, admitting that he’d had cause to reflect on what he’d achieved in his career to this point.
In admitting that he’d had the proverbial good, hard look in the mirror, Coleman said last Friday that a series of meetings with Brumbies Head Coach Stephen Larkham, and inspirational co-captain Christian Lealiifano brought him to the realisation that “...the last three years have gone so quick for me, and I feel like I’ve just wasted them as far as my rugby career goes.”
It was a huge admission at the time, and the match preview presser ahead of a much anticipated game probably wasn’t the time to really delve into the remarkably frank admission.
But a few days later definitely was, and Coleman spoke so openly during our follow-up chat about the process he forced himself through, that his own words provide best the explanation, particularly around what led to making – unprompted – such an honest admission last week.
“I suppose the thing was that for the last three years, while I hadn’t had any really serious injuries that kept me out for a long time, there were always little niggles there,” Coleman began explaining.
“I’d got on the field and kept playing – and sometimes playing not too bad – but, at the same time, I perhaps hadn’t been as professional as I could have been, or treated my body like I should, and just all the responsibilities that come with being a professional rugby player.
“By no means was I taking it for granted, but it was probably just time for me to get my body right, get fit, get injury free. And a lot of the injuries that came were just unfortunate little niggles – there was one that was a misdiagnosed three-week injury that kept me out for fourteen weeks – and just little things that kept building up and became very frustrating.
“I think I took a lot of inspiration from Christian, who’s someone who a few years ago himself had a lot of things to work on in his game around defence and fitness to become a leader, and he really got down into it. He knew what he had to work on and what he had to do, and he improved a lot of those little, what were once considered weaknesses in his game, and turned them into strengths.
“Being a close friend, he was really helpful and supportive, to every member of the team, just trying to get us to become the successful Finals team that we know we can be, and now there’s a standard set at the Brumbies, where you can’t just mosey along with your natural ability; you’ve got to put that extra work in and really take responsibility for yourself off the field and outside of training.”
But to label the last three seasons a waste? Coleman had barely played a full season in those last three.
“There were some good seasons in there, too – there was the season on the wing there  where I crossed for eight tries, and made some good plays, but at the same time I guess I just wasn’t really that happy with my body and my physical shape.
“I was loving playing, but I just knew I wasn’t getting the best out of myself and I know what I’m capable of as a player.
“It took a bit of a wake-up call there, and ‘Bernie’ has been great – he definitely believes in all his players, and that’s why he has them on the roster. He just wants to get the best out of you, and that’s what I’m looking to do; use the NRC this year to find my form again and then hopefully have a really big pre-season to allow me to play the way I know I can next year in Super Rugby.”
In a sign of a maturing player, Coleman said that the reflection upon his career was all of his own doing, and that there was no need for anything like an intervention or anything like that. “There was no huge issue, or ultimatum that something had to be done, no crisis or anything. It was just me realising that I didn’t want to keep through seasons without reaching my potential, and I know I’m not getting any younger,” he said.
Coleman admitted that his body type is one in which if he wasn’t regularly working out, or wasn’t able to train pretty consistently, he’s prone to losing condition and muscle strength easily. And while he didn’t admit that a quick trip through the drive-thru might’ve been something he enjoyed from time to time, he says now that a renewed focus on diet and nutrition is already reaping huge rewards.
The renewed drive for a more professional approach is no doubt driven by the fact that his contract comes up at the end of the next season, but Coleman also speaks of desire to take his game to a new level at a time when the Brumbies will be going through a major revitalisation of their playing group in 2017.
“I’ve only just turned 26, but I do have 80 [Super Rugby] games with nearly a good two season’s worth of missed games in there too, and I guess that’s like I said, there was no crisis or anything going wrong in my life, it was just the realisation that having played 80 games now, I don’t really feel like I’ve made a huge impact at the Brumbies yet,” he said.
“I couldn’t love the club any more, but with my experience it was just time that I started showing some professionalism and showing the impact that I know I can have. It’s just about building that consistency in my game, so that I’m not playing or training really well one week, and then not going so well the next week.”
Coleman has been enjoying this renewed focus on his game through the Vikings’ National Rugby Championship campaign to date, and was the stand-in Captain last weekend when the Canberra side wrested the Horan-Little Shield away from Brisbane City for the first time in more than a year.
“It’s an old cliché, but maybe that thumping we copped from NSW Country was what we needed, to let us know that we’re really not as good as we thought we might have been after the huge win in Round 1 (over Queensland Country).
“So we knew what we had to do in that second half against Brisbane City; it’s all about building pressure and points, and suffocating other teams out of the game. We’re really looking forward to two home games now, and we want to make it up to our home fans for a pretty poor performance last week.
And now, Coleman says holding the Shield gives the Vikings a narrower focus for the rest of the NRC season.
“That Shield hasn’t been passed around too many times, so our focus and our mentality has got to be to not let go of it. In a seven-game season, every game is like a final almost, but now that there’s actually some silverware on the line, it only makes it more important to keep winning to the end of the year and to get our name on it.”