Huxley's return a shining light
Keiran Smith
March 29, 2010
Brumbies back Julian Huxley directs play, Brumbies v Chiefs, Super 14, Canberra Stadium, March 27, 2010
Julian Huxley made an emotional return to action with the Brumbies © Getty Images

We love a cliché in sport, especially those of us that scratch a living by commentating and offering our 'cereal box' opinion on it. One of the key phrases in our repertoire is the word 'miracle'. It's a handy little expression we pull out whenever something happens on the field which appears inexplicable.

Think of Campo's 'miracle' over-the-shoulder pass to Tim Horan in the 1991 World Cup semi-final or George Gregan's 'miracle' tackle on Jeff Wilson in the 1994 Bledisloe Cup in Sydney as opportune moments for us scribes to claim a 'miracle' ahead of any other superlative.

But something happened this past weekend which made me take pause and reflect on what 'miracle' really means and the context in which we use it. I asked myself - have we been using this term too loosely? Of course, the trigger to this dilemma was none other than Julian Huxley's shock return to Super Rugby after being diagnosed with a brain tumour just over two years ago.

Rewind to March 1, 2008 with Huxley left convulsing on the Canberra Stadium turf after a tackle on the Reds' James Horwill went awry. After precautionary scans revealed a brain tumour, not only Huxley's blossoming career but his life seemed under grave threat. However, this was a man who stared into the eyes of his own mortality and decided he was not yet ready to call full time on rugby.

Making this comeback tale all the more remarkable was that Huxley never looked like he had been away from the game, as he made a telling impact in a match the Brumbies had to win. The form that earned the utility back his first Wallabies cap in 2007 was again evident as he assisted Matt Giteau in guiding a young Brumbies backline around the park. His return is also rather symbolic for the Brumbies as they prepare to mark the first anniversary of team-mate Shawn Mackay's tragic death during their tour of South Africa last year.

The match itself was a thriller, as most games involving the Chiefs are, and the late victory gave the Brumbies a foot inside the top four at the half way mark. Given the Bulls are sprinting away and likely to host one of the semi-finals, the race for second place and hosting rights has become all the more important.

Also in the thick of it at mid-term are the Waratahs and Reds after both provinces secured a hat-trick of victories to move them within a breath of the top four. While many expected the Waratahs to be thereabouts at this stage, the resurgence of the Reds under Ewen McKenzie has been not only remarkable but a real refreshing tonic for the code as a whole. While the Reds attack, led by the ever-improving Will Genia, has been entertaining, the key to their form is actually without the ball as they boast the second best defence in the competition. Hopefully that last minute defeat to the Waratahs in round one will not dash their finals aspirations.

The Western Force have had a torrid season and the Bulls only heaped yet more misery on the men from Perth on Saturday. Again the Force put in a spirited performance and even led the defending champions during the second period, but still find themselves marooned at the bottom of the ladder. To be fair, the standings do not truly reflect their performances this season and it certainly hasn't helped John Mitchell's cause that the fixture list has seen the Force play five of the top seven teams in their opening six matches. With the high-flying Stormers next up, it hardly gets any easier for the young Force lineup either.

There was some other good news this week in the form of an announcement that England's tour of Australia in June has been extended to include midweek matches against the Australian Barbarians in Perth (June 8) and Gosford (June 15). With Australia 'A' no longer involved in the Pacific Nations Cup, the additional two matches against England will be manna from heaven for Robbie Deans as new players and combinations can be tested before the Tri Nations in July. It also gives the many fringe Wallabies and rising stars the opportunity for representative game-time in front of the national selectors at a time when only club rugby would have been available.

The value of these midweek fixtures was made abundantly clear during the Wallabies' Grand Slam tour attempt last term, with Quade Cooper playing his way into the first XV for the England Test after a stellar performance against Gloucester, while Kurtley Beale also took his opportunity to impress and earned his Wallabies debut later on the tour. Deans will be hoping these matches again unearth a few more gems to bring the gloss back to the gold jersey, lost in 2009.


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