Brett McKay
Brumbies primed for ANZAC Day rematch with Chiefs
Brett McKay
April 23, 2014
Nic White and Scott Fardy unveiled the Brumbies ANZAC Day strip outside the Australian War Memorial © Twitter

In the shadows of the Australian War Memorial, the iconic museum chronicling Australia's military history over more than a century, Brumbies' scrum-half Nic White is trying his best to maintain that it's just another game. But we can see the grin on his face, and so he quickly stops pretending.

"They won the Grand Final, and we didn't," White says, of facing off against the Chiefs on Friday evening at Canberra Stadium. The match against the Chiefs is the first of what the Brumbies hope will become a regular trans-Tasman clash in Canberra on ANZAC Day. And of course, it's also the first rematch between the two sides since the 2013 Super Rugby decider.

"I don't know if 'revenge' is the right word or not, but it's definitely something that burnt blokes for a good six months until we could get back into Super Rugby," White says of the 27-22 loss in Hamilton. "It's a chance for us to... it certainly won't bring back the feeling of winning a Grand Final, but it's a small step."

It was a match that the Brumbies were in right up until the last quarter, before ultimately, the gruelling three weeks previous of a Canberra-Perth-Canberra-Pretoria-Canberra-Hamilton travel/train/play schedule took hold. That they were so close to winning the club's third Super Rugby title makes this first chance to face off with the Chiefs that much more enticing.

"Definitely," White says. "If we were flogged, or beaten convincingly, you'd walk away and look yourself, but we were certainly in that game and winning it with 20 minutes to go, and it took a side like the Chiefs - who have shown over the last three years that they're class, and they're showing it this year again - and that's why it probably hurts so much."

Overcoming the hurt of the loss will be an altogether more difficult task even with the Chiefs current spate of injuries. Despite the loss of some key players in key positions, and despite losing a typically brutal clash with the Crusaders last Saturday, the Chiefs remain on top of the New Zealand conference, and on the same points tally as the Brumbies.

The Chiefs' renowned depth and ability for new players to be up to the task immediately is something not lost on the Brumbies.

The Chiefs' Liam Messam celebrates Robbie Robinson's try, Chiefs v Brumbies, Super Rugby, Super Rugby final, Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, August 3, 2013
The Brumbies fell short last year, but will be ready to redeem themselves this week © Getty Images

"It's something the Chefs have shown for years now," White says, of the Chiefs almost production line or replacement players. "They get injuries, but they've got incredible depth. They've obviously got a really good game plan and every time a player steps in, you may not have heard of him before, but he becomes a name you don't forget. It doesn't matter who you're playing, if they're wearing a Chiefs jersey, you know you're in for a tough game. They're all class."

Of course, the 'rematch' element is only part of what the Brumbies are hoping can become a special day - and hopefully, an annual event - on the Super Rugby calendar. The Brumbies hosted the Western Force two days after ANZAC Day last season, but the added ceremonial touches on the day, and the way they were received by both teams and the crowd on the day convinced them to push for a trans-Tasman clash on ANZAC Day itself.

In terms of the Australian sporting landscape, 'event fixtures' is something rugby has trailed the other codes in. What started as a speculative clash between Collingwood and Essendon in the AFL all those years ago has grown into one of the biggest days in that competition's season, and has now extended to three games on the day, with games in Wellington and Perth following the MCG blockbuster.

The NRL, too, has grown from a single fixture match between the Sydney Roosters and St.George/Illawarra to three games now, with the trans-Tasman Storm-Warriors game growing in significance, and this year adding a game in Brisbane between the Broncos and South Sydney.

So the Brumbies rightly feel like they're onto a winner, and it seems the concept is enjoying universal support. Certainly, it's appropriate they're playing a New Zealand team on ANZAC Day, and it is hoped future schedules can be worked to ensure a New Zealand team keeps coming to the Capital on ANZAC Day, with Canberra being such a centrepiece of the Department of Defence and the home of the Royal Military College, the Australian Defence Force Academy, and particularly, the Australian War Memorial.

The Brumbies will wear a specially-designed commemorative strip for the clash with the Chiefs, with the logo of military support charity Solider On prominent across the front. Proceeds from across the day, including an auction of the match-worn jerseys, will go towards Solider On and other affiliated charities. The players are wholeheartedly behind the special strip and the day itself, and are relishing the prospect of playing on such a significant occasion for both countries.

"It's significant in that most players and most supporters of the Brumbies and the people of Canberra have some connection with the military," Brumbies and Wallabies flanker-cum-lock Scott Fardy.

"Rugby's got a long history in military too, it's played around the world and is a big part of what they do, and so it's a marriage that really works with a Canberra team and the military being based here, or where the 'heavies' are. I think an ANZAC Day match is something that can really work well in Canberra."

The ANZAC message, too, of just getting stuck into the hard work and not letting your mates down is one that's not lost on Fardy either, whose rugby career has taken him from the northern beaches of Sydney, to Perth briefly, to the worst earthquake and tsunami-affected parts of Japan, to Canberra and then all over the rugby-playing world. Indeed, the Brumbies expect it of each other.

"Yeah, hard work is something this team is always willing to do. Any game in which we've down in is probably one where our work rate has not been good enough, and doing that hard work is something we pride ourselves on here. As a unit, work rate is a big issue for us, and it's something we push constantly. Hopefully that comes through on Friday."

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