Greg Growden writes ...
Brumbies give Wallabies fresh options
August 4, 2013
Scott Sio confirmed in the Super Rugby final that his star is rising © Getty Images
For the Brumbies, the Super Rugby final in Hamilton was one trip too many. But for new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, his old Australian province has provided him with enough alluring alternatives to make his Test journey a less difficult trek.
After encountering in the past few weeks virtually every airport terminal of note in the Southern Hemisphere, the Brumbies' battery eventually had to flatten. And that occurred in the final quarter of the Super Rugby final; with fatigue starting to set in, hence mistakes occurring, including several dunderhead kicks, they allowed the Chiefs to defend their title despite the champions having been scatty for most of the game and vulnerable to an upset.
The losing teams in major finals usually end up in the depths of depression, searching their soul for answers. But the Brumbies have no reason to hide away in a padded room, because their ability to make the final and then excel for so long deserves only admiration. They stuck to their game plan. They stuck to their beliefs. They showed faith in those who had performed all season. And they came so close to what would have been Australian rugby's greatest achievement in the 18-year-history of the tournament.
Even more importantly, after the disappointment of the British & Irish Lions series, McKenzie knows the Brumbies have provided him with numerous performers who have shown over the past fortnight they are up to the intensity of the highest level. So if change is required, McKenzie can be confident he has several Brumbies who won't let him down. McKenzie could even be prompted to go left field and pick a bolter- such as Scott Fardy - to give the Wallabies pack much-required edge for The Rugby Championship.
Fardy is not one of the pin-up Brumbies, but he has been one of their most important players - with his semi-final and final performances of such worth they could easily snare him either a Test second-row or back-row spot.
Greg Growden presents his Super Rugby 2013 Awards on Tuesday; which players and teams would you award? © Getty Images
George Smith is king of the pilferers at the breakdown, but Fardy wasn't that far behind in the past two weeks - with his ability to hold his position above the tackled player and win back possession a crucial factor in ensuring the Brumbies defeated the Bulls in Pretoria and were competitive for so long in the final. Fardy may be approaching 30. But so what? His Brumbies sidekick Ben Mowen has already shown this season that being in your late 20s is not late for Test football.
The finals series also confirmed that Scott Sio remains the most promising of the young Australian props running around. Neither the Bulls nor Chiefs succeeded in intimidating him. McKenzie is expected to pick Quade Cooper at No.10, but Matt Toomua is hovering. Most obviously, Toomua has a certain poise: he knows how to use space, mixes it up and rarely appears flustered; three attributes required of an international playmaker. He also can defend, and won't have to be hidden away. His Test debut is looming, as is that of Tevita Kuridrani, whose variations of speed and willingness to run straight made him a standout No 13 in the second half of the tournament.
Jesse Mogg will get more opportunity to attack with ball in hand under Ewen McKenzie, Greg Growden believes © Getty Images
We know he can kick. We saw that 400,000 times during the Super Rugby season. And most of his kicks were good. But one was diabolical - and at the worst moment - in the final minutes of the Super Rugby final, in which he struggled appreciably in the second half. Mogg is generally a reliable shepherd - confidently rebounding virtually everything that comes his way. And we have seen that he can back up well and attack. We just want to see more of it, to be convinced he can repeatedly perform under pressure. Uncertainty lingers, but that will change if McKenzie is a fan prepared to use Mogg in a far more expansive role. Under McKenzie, you just can't see Mogg being a sometimes one-dimensional kicking machine.
The latest Wallabies Test team, in the third Test against the Lions, featured seven Brumbies in the 22-man squad. That's a healthy representation, and one man will drop out as George Smith's Test days are now over. Nonetheless, expect that Brumbies' contingent of Wallabies to increase shortly.
The Brumbies capitulated only in the final 20 minutes in Hamilton (video available only in Australia)
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