The Growden Report
Brumbies playmakers showing Larkham's imprint
April 28, 2014
Nic White is a key to the Brumbies' success © Getty Images
Go through the footy record books, and you generally find the players who were scrappers rather than superstars become the great coaches.
There are exceptions of course, including "Lethal" Leigh Matthews in the AFL ranks, but more often than not the gurus on the field struggle with clipboard in hand. Too many on-field masters struggle in instructing others because they assume too much. If it is easy for them, then it must be easy for others. Not so.
Also those provinces which opt for the co-coach formula often falter; clashing egos and blurred lines over who does what often lead to confusion.
That's why the success of the Brumbies this season is so fascinating.
They've opted for one of their most enlightening players - Stephen Larkham - to be in charge of the organisation, working in tandem with Laurie Fisher. Taking over from such a bombastic figure as Jake White, this coaching panel knew it could have easily been a downhill slide, especially as the former coach indoctrinated into the players such a tightly defined and intricately structured game plan.
Yet to Larkham and Fisher's credit, they have worked on what White had drilled into his troops and made it even better to turn the Brumbies into the most intelligent, resourceful and enjoyable team to watch in the Australian conference. It is also clear Larkham and Fisher are combining as an effective tag-team combination.
Fisher has long been highly respected by those under him, as he has always been a players' coach. And even though Larkham, who when working with White used to roam the field as the smartest water boy going around, is now restricted to the coach's box, his involvement is obvious. The inner backs, in particular No.10 Matt Toomua, are showing the same poise that made Larkham one of the best pivots/fullbacks Australian rugby has produced. Larkham is teaching Toomua, and pivot/centre Christian Leali'ifano well.
It is clear the Brumbies' coaching team is allowing their players certain freedoms, and with it self-confidence has improved this season - as shown against the Chiefs when several were rewarded when taking risks.
The Brumbies impressed in defeating the Chiefs (video available only in Australia)
Matt Toomua is showing Larkham-esque poise for the Brumbies © Getty Images
Toomua is the key to the operation.
Toomua showed last year at Super Rugby and Test level that he was primed for the penthouse. The art of being a formidable No.10 is to seemingly always have time on your side. Toomua is poised, and never rushed.
And this is a crucial area in which New South Wales Waratahs are suddenly finding themselves exposed. The Waratahs have stuck with Bernard Foley as their No.10, and his form hasn't been good enough. Foley lacks the authority and composure of Toomua, gets flustered at times, and Michael Cheika will shortly have to make a brutal decision if the Waratahs' season is not to tail off. Kurtley Beale has to be moved to No 10.
Toomua has also been helped by the Brumbies' scrum-half Nic White, who is such an irritating imp. White is forever complaining to referees; agitating opponents; agitating his own team-mates; pestering the assistant referee virtually every time he kicks the ball out, arguing the lineout should be set two or three centimetres further down the field; and always being a general nuisance.
Nic White would be a complete pain in the neck to sit next to on a long aeroplane flight, as he appears to be one of those irritants who would always be complaining that the food wasn't up to scratch or the stewardess should have poured more jungle juice into his glass. But to be a convincing nark, you have to be able to protect your own patch; White does that effectively.
Larkham and Fisher also have the required forward base. Their front-row of Scott Sio, Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander is the best of the Australian provinces, while Scott Fardy is the most effective lock running around.
The Brumbies should finish top of the Australian conference, before the great debate over whether Matt Toomua or Quade Cooper should be the Wallabies No.10 re-ignites.
There is a strong push for Toomua to take over. But I would stick to what went well last year - Cooper at No.10, Toomua at No.12 - with each having the freedom to swap roles during the game. As the Brumbies know with Toomua and Leali'ifano, there are many pluses in having two playmakers.
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