Super 14
Hoiles primed for new season
Graham Jenkins
January 28, 2010
Brumbies skipper Stephen Hoiles warms up for a pre-season session, Brumbies pre-season training session, Griffith Oval, Canberra, Australia, January 18, 2010
Hoiles will lead the Brumbies into the new Super 14 season © Getty Images

Brumbies captain Stephen Hoiles is determined to put a troubled year behind him as he embarks on the new Super 14 season.

The 28-year-old has experienced some epic highs and lows in the last year with the joy of being handed the Brumbies' captaincy tempered by the tragic death of his good friend and team-mate Shawn Mackay. The experienced back-row forward battled back from a knee injury to push for an international recall at the end of the year but saw his dreams of a return to the Green and Gold dashed - this time by a hamstring problem.

Not to be deterred, Hoiles has high hopes for the season ahead as the star-studded Brumbies go in search of their first Super Rugby crown since 2004. And he has good reason to feel optimistic after the high-profile off-season acquisitions of Wallabies captain Rocky Elsom, former Brumbies favourite Matt Giteau and veteran Justin Harrison added yet more class to a squad already featuring the likes of Stirling Mortlock, George Smith and Stephen Moore. But while the bookmakers talk up the side's chances, Hoiles is refusing to get carried away.

"We're excited but not getting ahead of ourselves just yet," he told ESPNscrum. "We've got a lot of work to do, we've only had those guys with us for a couple of weeks so we're going to have to get a lot of stuff done in training. There's a lot to do in a short period of time but I'm sure we can do it."

Hoiles spearheads a squad featuring no less than three Wallabies captain, past and present, in Mortlock, Smith and Elsom and he is well aware his leadership will come under the microscope in such illustrious company.

"It's a massive honour," he said. "But I feel more comfortable this year than I did last year because I came to it quite late in January, just a month before the season. But you're never over confident in the role, that's what is good about it, you're always trying to challenge yourself and it certainly is challenging with so many good leaders in there. All the guys have been really supportive and it is a year I'm really looking forward to."

Hoiles and the whole Brumbies organisation were dealt a crushing blow midway through last season by the death of Mackay. The 26-year-old was hit by a car following the Brumbies' loss to the Sharks in Durban in April last year and subsequently died from complications. The tragedy hit Hoiles, a childhood friend, and his team-mates hard but they refused to buckle.

"At the time I think it inspired us to have a strong end of season," explained Hoiles. "It was a very draining time for all of us, we got on with the job in hand but when the season finished it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders because mentally, the guys had been through so much.

"It was a tragedy that we will never forget but what it did do was bring us together a little bit tighter as a group and there will still be parts of it which we will call on this year because of the bond that we made during that time. It will probably be called upon numerous times, not necessarily verbally, but we'll think about it and it will get us through the tough times."

Injury meant that Hoiles did not make the fateful trip to South Africa and he has nothing but admiration for the players who did and how they coped in the aftermath. "The boys played just four days after finding out he had passed away and then there was his funeral the next week, so those were two tough weeks. I was lucky enough to be able to play in the game afterwards and I was just shocked at how well the boys played.

Patrick Phibbs, Stephen Hoiles and Morgan Turinui console each other at the funeral of Shawn Mackay, Mary Immaculate Church, Waverley, Sydney, Australia, April 15, 2009
Hoiles consoles Patrick Phibbs and Morgan Turinui during Shawn Mackay's funeral last year © Getty Images

"The week before I was on the sidelines thinking how can the boys do that, it made you so proud of the group and what they did in such a short period of time. And hopefully we can carry that end of season form into the start of this season."

The team's preparations for the new campaign have been far from ideal with both Giteau and Elsom struggling with injuries that may keep them sidelined until the season-opener against the Force on February 12. The opener is followed by a testing trip to South Africa to take on the fancied Bulls and then the Lions.

"There's no right or wrong time to play these guys," he said. "We're just looking at it as a good opportunity for a new squad to get away and spend a bit of time together which is always good for a new side. We get to spend a few weeks with each other which will make the new guys feel a bit more comfortable. The footy is always going to be hard no matter when you travel but we're pretty excited."

And the favourites tag? "It's irrelevant; it's out of our control. We're expecting to have a great year but that tag is not an issue; we've got a lot to work on as a team. We're happy to take it and happy to be underdogs, it doesn't matter. There's a lot more worrying things on our plate than the mark the bookies have got us at."

Hoiles too has had more than his fair share of injury woe with the hamstring tear suffered in the Wallabies' pre-tour trial denying him the chance to add to his tally of 16 Test caps.

"It was tough, but I've had worse," added Hoiles, who made his last international appearance in 2008. "You just get up and keep going and I've just got to have a good season this year. The good thing to know is that if you're playing well he [Wallabies coach Robbie Deans] is going to pick you. You've just got to put yourself in the situation for him to do that."

A member of the Wallabies squad that fell at the quarter-final hurdle at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Hoiles is determined to force his way back into the international reckoning before the sport's next global showpiece in New Zealand next year but knows the path to that goal begins with the Brumbies.

"It would be nice to be involved but there is a lot of time between now and then so it is important to remain focused on the Brumbies but it is definitely the long term goal."

The Brumbies kick off their pre-season campaign against the Hurricanes on Friday before tackling the Waratahs next Thursday.

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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.

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