Super Rugby AU grand final: Brumbies bold ambition to be among world’s greatest club sides

There is no cushioning the ambition.

“Our goal here is to be the best,” Brumbies coach Dan McKellar says in his Canberra office.

“We want our program to be considered equal to your Leinsters, Saracens and Crusaders.

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Dan McKellar has the Brumbies on the brink of the 2020 title.Source:Getty Images

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“For us to achieve that, we’ve got to have this attitude and desire to be world class.

“The only way we’re going to do that is by wanting to get better every day. If you have that attitude and back it up with really good work ethic, you’re a chance of getting there.

“Our message this year, from the very first meeting we had, was how are we going to get better every day?”

They’ve featured in seven of the past eight finals’ series including 2020s abbreviated version.

The Brumbies host the Super Rugby AU decider on Saturday night against Queensland Reds – three more days of getting better to earn the ultimate prize, their first premiership since 2004.

Since taking over in 2018, McKellar has lost the likes of David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Ben Alexander, Rory Arnold, Sam Carter, Isi Naisarani, Kyle Godwin and Henry Speight.

Look across his squad and you’ll see stories of the discarded, the unwanted, and the unnoticed.

Centre Irae Simone, unwanted by the Waratahs.

Prop James Slipper, finding a lifeline after being cut by the Reds.

Sydney-bred front rowers Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and Allan Alaalota being signed to extended playing squad deals under the noses of NSW.

Irae Simone has been a revelation.Source:Getty Images

Fullback Tom Banks unable to break through at the Reds.

Winger Tom Wright, found playing reserve grade for NRL club Manly Sea Eagles.

And yet they arrive at the Brumbies, and they get better.

“This club is full of guys who have faced knock-backs and adversity,” McKellar said.

“It’s no different to myself, I coached at Souths in Brisbane.

“You feel pigeonholed at times. I felt I needed to leave my comfort zone and leave Queensland to look for opportunity elsewhere, and earn respect by doing that.

“It was a gutsy by myself, it was an even gutsier call by my wife Carly and two daughters (Amelie and Maya). Without their support I wouldn’t be sitting here, absolutely no doubt.

“We were very comfortable in Brisbane, I was selling orthopaedic implants, we had our friends and family close by.

The Brumbies have clearly been the best Aussie Super Rugby franchise in recent times.Source:Getty Images

“But I took the job at Tuggeranong in 2011 the same year Queensland won their only Super Rugby title) I had a plan to have success and hopefully get a foot in the door at the Brumbies and build relationships with people like Laurie Fisher, Steve Larkham and Jake White.

“I managed to do that, they provided me an opportunity and I’ll always be grateful for that.

“The plan’s gone OK so far.”

Keeping it simple

McKellar’s coaching philosophy is, literally, simple.

“You’ve got to be really careful about the information you give them, make sure the information is simple, clear, easy for them to understand – they’re young men, footballers, let’s not make the job harder than it is,” the 44-year-old said.

“I’ve never come across coaches that have been spoken about, in any sport, being praised for making things really difficult.

“You look at your Craig Bellamys, Wayne Bennetts, Eddie Joneses, these people have had long, successful careers because they keep things nice and simple and guys understand.

James Slipper has got better since heading to Canberra.Source:Getty Images

“Give them the information they need, but don’t overload them.”

McKellar reveals exactly how this unfolds with his second rowers and wingers.

“We had Sam Carter and Rory Arnold last year, now we’ve got a new group of locks coming through,” McKellar said.

“There’s three things they need to do really well. To be considered for Super Rugby at the Brumbies, you need to bring good set-piece, bring physicality, and make repeat efforts.

“Those are the three things that we talk to them about from one day to the next. I don’t want them going out there thinking we’ve got to make line breaks, throw offloads.

“I’ll say to Murray Douglas, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Nick Frost, Blake Enever, do these three things, do them time and time again, and if you do that you’re a chance of being in our side.

“When I talk to our wingers, it’s about not waiting for the ball to come to you. You’ve got free license to come into the game, take advantage of opportunities to get tight five defenders in front of you, go looking for the football as often as you can.

“To do that, you’ve got to have high workrate to reload on edges, workrate to go looking for the football.”

Can the Brumbies overcome the Reds on Saturday night?Source:Getty Images

Fresh mindset pays dividends

There was a time when all of the Brumbies’ tries seemed to come off a lineout driving maul.

“When I took over at the end of 2017, the Brumbies were known as a team for strong set-piece, the maul, defence,” McKellar said.

“I thought we needed to add more tools to the kit. To win Super Rugby and be successful in this competition you’ve got to be able to score tries.

“We had to change the way we played, particularly from counter-attack and turnover attack, and be a team that can attack from anywhere, not just lineout or scrum.”

Highlighting that change, 19 of the Brumbies’ 30 tries this season have come from linebreaks, with just six from pushovers.

“We had a big shift in mindset around seeing an opportunity and taking it, and backing your skills to take the chances in front of you,” McKellar said.

“That took time, probably half of 2018. We had a bit of a slow start in 2019, but we’ve been in a pretty good position since.”

Originally published asHow the Bellamy, Bennett approach paid off for Brumbies

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