Brumbies scrap pre-season cotton wool for stars

Brumbies training on Wednesday afternoon
Brumbies' Henry Speight
Brumbies training on Wednesday afternoon Brumbies' Henry Speight

ACT Brumbies coach Dan McKellar will throw away pre-season cotton wool and roll out his under-utilised Wallabies in all of the club's trial matches in a bid to avoid a slow start to Super Rugby.

McKellar is also on the verge of unveiling a captain for his first season as a head coach, with Christian Lealiifano and Sam Carter the favourites for the role this year.

McKellar could name his skipper as early as this week ahead of the Brumbies' first warm-up match against a rebuilt Melbourne Rebels side at Seiffert Oval on Saturday night.

Wallabies tourists Henry Speight, Joe Powell and Blake Enever are all set for extended game time, while Lealiifano will be integrated back into the side after a stint in Ireland.

The Brumbies will jam most of their season planning into a 12-day period, which will include the clash against the Rebels, the Brisbane 10s and a trial against the Waikato Chiefs.

The tight turnaround will see McKellar blend new faces with established stars, who are desperate for game time limited opportunities during the Wallabies season.

Speight is still locked in negotiations about his future after being courted by European clubs keen to lure him away from Australian rugby at the end of the 2018 season.

Powell, a Canberra junior, is also off-contract at the end of the year and will be keen to continue his rapid rise from rugby obscurity into the national squad.

"Some of our guys in the Wallabies haven't played a lot of footy, so they will get some game time," McKellar said.

"There will also be opportunities for other guys, who are in their first year at the club. We're not going out there to pick our strongest team.

"We want to give guys opportunities to build combinations and work on what we've done over the last seven or eight weeks, giving them a chance to put their foot forward in a selection scenario."

The Brumbies' first challenge will be against the unpredictable Rebels, who have been put together by new coach Dave Wessels following the demise of the Western Force.

The Rebels will be an Australian conference contender if they can find a way to gel on the field, adding Wallabies Will Genia, Dane Haylett-Petty, Adam Coleman and Billy Meakes to their roster.

The Brumbies, too, bolstered their squad with several ex-Force players, including Chance Peni, Isi Naisarani and Richie Arnold.

McKellar used a three-day pre-season camp at the AIS and Royal Military College to search for the leaders of his first season in charge.

Lealiifano and Carter shared the role last year, although Lealiifano played just one game after being diagnosed with leukaemia.

"We don't need 25 leaders in our squad, we just want an environment where we've got our leaders and they're the guys we listen to when we need direction and clarity," McKellar said.

"At the same time, we want that environment to be one where a [first year player like] Mack Hansen can feel comfortable having a voice and sharing their opinion when the time is right.

"The players have handled the past few days really well. At times there was enormous frustration, and that was part of the goal of the camp. Hopefully the players and staff have learnt a bit about themselves."


February 3: ACT Brumbies v Melbourne Rebels at Seiffert Oval, 6pm.

February 10-11: Brisbane 10s at Suncorp Stadium

February 14: ACT Brumbies v Waikato Chiefs at Sunshine Coast Stadium, 8pm (AEDT)

This story Brumbies scrap pre-season cotton wool for stars first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.