David Polkinghorne June 30, 2012
Brumbies greats have backed the current team to make the finals this year. Photo: Juliette Dudley
ACT Brumbies greats from the championship-winning class of 2004 have backed this year's team as genuine Super Rugby title contenders.
It's been eight long years, but the last batch of Brumbies to make the Super Rugby finals think the club's playoffs drought will come to an end this year.
In 2004, the Brumbies beat the Canterbury Crusaders 47-38 to claim their second title but they haven't made the finals since.
With three rounds remaining in 2012, the Brumbies lead the Australian conference by five points and are third overall.
Clyde Rathbone, Owen Finegan and Joe Roff all backed the Brumbies to not only break the drought but to push deep into the finals, while Jeremy Paul felt a championship tilt was probably a hurdle too far for the young team.
Rathbone said the ''hard yards'' done in the pre-season put the Brumbies exactly where they deserved to be and if they stuck to what's worked so far, he saw no reason why they wouldn't win their third Super Rugby title.
''I expect them to make the finals, they should expect that and from there anything's possible,'' Rathbone said.
''The main thing is they don't walk away from what has worked for them for the first bit of the competition … finals would be a great achievement but that shouldn't be just where they limit themselves to.''
Like many, Rathbone had no expectations of this previously unknown batch of Brumbies.
But he was instantly impressed by their ability to play 80 minutes of rugby.
He said the 36-34 loss to the Pretoria Bulls in round nine was a turning point for the club, with its attack really firing over the past six rounds.
''They've developed the attacking part of their game,'' Rathbone said.
''What's been consistent all season has been their defence … but probably the turning point of the season was the Bulls game in Pretoria, if you look at how they're starting to attack.''
For Roff, the team already had a pass mark for this year, whether it made the playoffs or not.
But he knows, with finals just three wins away, nothing short of making the playoffs would satisfy the Brumbies' hunger.
''On reflection the season will be a huge success, come what may,'' Roff said.
''However in speaking with the team and the coaches, what I'm pleased about is that that's not the way that they're thinking. They're getting on with the business of almost getting started from scratch now as a new season and building further success.''
Finegan, who captained the 2004 grand final team, likened this year's Brumbies squad of 1996, the first year of Super Rugby.
There weren't many Wallabies in that ACT team but the club soon boasted almost a full side of them.
History seems to be repeating. At the start of 2012, only Pat McCabe, Ben Alexander and Steve Moore were internationals, but there were eight Brumbies in Robbie Deans's squad for the recent series against Scotland and Wales.
''In 1996 when we started we had a sprinkling of Wallabies and a lot of people that hadn't played for the Wallabies and wanted to, and that was one of the goals of the Brumbies initially was to get more Wallabies,'' Finegan said.
''And they've done that now just through performance and it's just a matter over the next three weeks of reinforcing that and for some of those blokes to be putting their hand up and leading the way.''
Paul felt it might be too early in the young team's development to mount a serious championship charge.
''I wouldn't say this year, but mind you everyone's been saying no to everything this year and it's still been happening,'' he said.
''I think the fact they've put themselves in the position is extraordinary. I hope they do, I hope they go all the way, it'd be nice just to end the drought of not making the finals.
''I think that should be their one and only goal at the moment.''