Lots of things have changed about rugby since the Brumbies last won a Super Rugby championship back in 2004.
Jerseys are nowhere near as generously fitting as they were, for one. And the footage of the Brumbies ’47-38 win over the Crusaders all those years ago is a reminder of a time before high definition and widescreen TVs.
So it’s fair to say it has been a long time between drinks for Brumbies fans, ahead of tonight’s Super Rugby AU final, against the Queensland Reds at Canberra Stadium.
The 2004 title coincides with the last time a Super Rugby final was hosted in Canberra. And, historically, it has been near impossible to win away from home.
In the 24 seasons prior to the disrupted 2020 season, the away team has claimed the title just six times.
« It shows you the importance of home ground advantage, and the Brumbies have done that this year, » former Brumbies prop turned publican Ben Alexander said.
« They’ve been the dominant team and definitely deserve home ground advantage, but in saying that, the job’s not done. »
Though it has been 16 years since the last Brumbies title, and last home final, it is only seven years since their last appearance in a final, losing the 2013 decider to New Zealand’s Chiefs in Hamilton.
Having won through to the final by beating the Pretoria-based Bulls in South Africa, the Brumbies found themselves up by 10 over the Chiefs going into the last 20 minutes.
« I remember going back to halfway, and I had this vision of the Super Rugby trophy filled with beer, » Alexander said this week in Canberra.
« I just had this moment, I thought, ‘we’re going to win’. I genuinely believed it. And then they went bang-bang, try-try, and we lost.
Despite being the most-capped player in Brumbies history, Alexander does not have a ticket to the game.
Having made a comeback this year with his ACT club rugby side, Uni-Norths, he is consigned to looking after patrons at his Kingston Foreshore pub.
But Alexander has loved being involved in the game again after retiring from the Brumbies at the end of the 2018 season.
« The club rugby comp’s going really well, and the ‘Brums’ have been playing awesome all year despite all the adversity that’s been thrown their way — the bushfires earlier in the year and all the smoke, and the 40C game to start the season. And then coronavirus hit.
« I’m just really proud of the way they dusted themselves off and topped this new comp. »
Coach Dan McKellar sprung a few selection surprises for the final, making four changes to the starting side that went down to Queensland in the final round.
Noah Lolesio will return from a hamstring injury suffered back in mid-July, and has been reunited in the halves with Joe Powell, consigning Wallabies scrumhalf Nic White back to the bench.
« Noah has trained really well for the last two to three weeks, and our S&C and medical team have done a great job to get him back and fit and firing, » McKellar said after confirming his team.
« He’s keen, he hasn’t played for two months, but if you go back to round one of this competition, he hadn’t played for four months, and he was pretty good that night. »
Such is the health and depth of the Brumbies squad in Super Rugby AU, regular players including lock Darcy Swain, flanker Tom Cusack, and scrumhalf Ryan Longeran didn’t make the cut.
Neither did Wallabies squad bolter Len Ikitau, or utility back Mack Hansen — the young man responsible for the after-the-siren penalty that sunk the Reds in Canberra in early August.
McKellar said it was comfortably his toughest selection of 2020, but he can’t fault the approach of the overlooked players this week.
« I can’t speak highly enough of the boys that have missed out, to be honest, » he said.
« Their attitude has been first class and they’ve just got on and trained really well and helped us prepare for what’s a big occasion. »
From the moment the Brumbies knew they would be hosting the final a fortnight ago, he and his coaching staff have been reminding the players how rarely chances like this come along.
Plenty of very good Brumbies players never got to play in a grand final: David Pocock, Pat McCabe, Rory Arnold to name a few.
McKellar has given everything he can to join Rod McQueen and David Nucifora as Super Rugby-winning Brumbies coaches.
« Oh yeah, I’m ready for it, » he said, a large grin rising at the mention of his predecessors.
« We’ve worked hard over a long period of time now, but to be able to create our own little bit of history, for this group in particular, I think would be really special. »
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