Brumbies vs Sharks: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

The Brumbies farewelled club legends, shut down the debate about their style and worked the little things. 

What else are we talking about after the Brumbies beat the Sharks?

WARM FAREWELLS ON A COLD NIGHT

Fairytale farewells don’t always have to come in a winning grand final.

Sometimes they come after a handsome quarter-final win in front of a very appreciative crowd, with the mercury nudging freezing point.

Or so it turned out in Canberra on Saturday night, anyway, when the Brumbies paid special tribute to the players who are leaving the club at the end of the season.

They are Ben Hyne, Wharenui Hawera, Jordan Jackson-Hope, David Pocock, Chance Peni, Murray Douglas, Josh Mann-Rea, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter and Henry Speight.

Each was cheered loudly but none more so than Christian Lealiifano.

There is a chance the Brumbies could host a final - if they win in Argentina and the Hurricanes beat the Crusaders - but you don’t want to miss a chance to say goodbye to club legends when you’ve got one, went the reasoning.

“It was really special, not just for myself but a lot of the boys who were farewelled tonight,” Lealiifano said post-game.

"To play like that and to hear the crowd, that’s what you’ll remember for all the years: seeing and hearing all your fans support, in this cold weather. Its a different buzz and its something I will cherish for a long time. Tonight was really special.”

Lealiifano announced at the start of the week he is leaving the club he first joined in 2007.

"The amount of support and messages from everyone has been really, really special,” he said.. 

"It makes me feel like I have had an impact here and I am really humbled by that. I love this team, I love this city. It’s been really, really special to me.”

BRAND NEW BRUMBIES

Forget about a debate about the Brumbies’ style - it’s case closed.

If five tries in a quarter-final, which included forwards laying on linebreaks for backs via inside passes, isn’t enough proof the Brumbies have a new attacking identity, how about this for a stat: Christian Lealiifano has only kicked four penalty goals all season.

Repeat: four. In 17 games.

That 34 fewer than Bulls fly-half Handre Pollard, who has the most. 

Lealiifano is 23rd on a list of 30 people who’ve kicked at least one penalty this year.

Now, the obvious reason is the fact the Brumbies have the rolling maul from hell, and a semi-guaranteed seven points beats a semi-guaranteed three points.

But it also points to a change in belief and an unshakeable sense of confidence at the Brumbies this season, that has manifested itself in many, many more ways than just rolling over maul tries.

Last year Dan McKellar tried to get his team to start thinking different to shackled seasons past, and to play fearless footy. To chase the big prize and the big play. Not eek out results via percentages and endless one-out barges.

They wobbled for a while; most of last year, in fact. But the penny has dropped in 2019.


But the 2019 Brumbies are now a fully transformed team with a new identity.

The can still turn to their set-piece, and even one-out barges, when they want or need to.

But they have many more weapons in their arsenal. And have the confidence to choose them and use them.

Sign of a good team.

FROM LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS GROW

The desire of a club can often be measured by the little things in a game.

No, not the halfbacks - but while we are on the topic, Joe Powell is having the season of his life and absolutely deserves to be in selection talks about World Cup spots. 

The urgency and desire of a team who want to win for each other and their fans is seen in the double-efforts, or the speed with which they run backwards in a game.

Not backwards-backwards, but the ground covered covering kicks that go through the line or cover-defending after a linebreak. The efforts that don’t get attention.

Never giving up basically.

Against the Sharks, the Brumbies never gave up, in all those little things. 

Several times players sprinted back to touch down dangerous Sharks grubbers (Powell among them) and removed the threat.


Linebreaks were few and far between, but when a gap emerged in the defensive line via a bite-in, Brumbies players also raced to plug it and cover for their teammate.

They’re the little efforts that don’t get noticed much but without them, you’re not winning finals.

BIG TROUBLE AHEAD

It was joked during the week that with referees cracking down on anything resembling high contact at the 20s World Cup, teams should start fielding 15 very short people to reduce the numbers of an opponent.

That gag has a serious flip-side though. To guys as big as Rory Arnold, everyone is a very short person. 

Two relatively innocuous ball-and-all tackles made by Arnold were penalised as high, and while the Brumbies defence ensured the damage was limited, it could be a lot different in further finals and particularly the Rugby World Cup.

There will be tight games to come this season and a penalty here and there can kill, let alone a card.

Even when Arnold makes a very credible attempt to get low in the tackle, he can still be connecting with a short player in a zone deemed “high” by a referee on the run, or by a touchie poking his beak in via an obscured view from afar.

Wallabies defensive coach Nathan Grey will no doubt be watching refereeing trends and tailoring defensive drills accordingly when they get into camp. For his big men like Arnold, who loves a the bear hug tackle, the work will be even more urgent.

PULU POWER

There are plenty of Brumbies in tip-top, A-grade form.

Allan Alaalatoa should be licensed, he hits that hard. Tom Banks is more Chris Latham than Chris Latham. Christian Lealiifano has been the best ten in the country for months. James Slipper, Sam Carter, Tom Cusack. The list goes on.

But a smoky for the Wallabies World Cup squad? Try Toni Pulu.

Henry Speight is in some the form of his life, and should be among the first wingers mentioned, but every week Pulu - the former Chiefs winger - catches the eye as well.


Pulu has genuine speed and has brought over that infernal Kiwi trait of somehow wriggling down a sideline, without being tackled.

But it’s his defence that also impresses, defending one-in almost like a centre, with Tom Banks on the edge. Pulu is one of those guys who can finish and rarely puts a foot wrong.

Watch that space.