ACT coach Jake White says ”we will never forget” the heartbreak the Auckland Blues inflicted on his side last year.
But while the trip to New Zealand looms as a revenge mission, White insists the Brumbies’ motivation is keeping alive their season instead of focusing on redemption. Rewind 10 months and the Brumbies trudged off Canberra Stadium licking their wounds as a last-round choke against the Blues cost them a golden opportunity to make the play-offs.
In just 80 minutes they slipped from top of the Australian conference, lost the right to host a home final and were relegated to seventh on the ladder. White admits that pain ”still burns” but wants his players to focus on moving forward.
But he said the lessons learnt from the 30-16 meltdown last year can be used to get the Brumbies back on track after consecutive defeats. ”Yes, [last year’s result] burns a bit but we’re not using the word revenge,” White said.
”The bottom line is it hurts so much because we were so close to something that’s so special in Super Rugby – making the play-offs. I don’t want [the players to put it out of their minds], I want them to be reminded of that for as long as we have to so we get to where we want to be. We should have won last year and had we won we would have made the play-offs. But if it was that easy, everyone would make the play-offs. We will never forget it so that we use it to make us better when we’re in that situation again.”
The equation is simple. The Brumbies are still at the top of the Australian conference and if they win their remaining four games they will make the play-offs.
But a loss to the Blues would throw the race wide open and put the Brumbies’ finals aspirations on the edge of disaster. It’s the Blues who can again be the destroyers.
Last season Auckland were ranked near the bottom of the table and struggled to win games all year before firing up in the last round to crush the Brumbies.
This year the Blues are also fighting for a finals berth.
The Brumbies have struggled in the past two months, winning just three of eight games. They have lost three and drawn two in that period.
Wallabies World Cup-winning captain Nick Farr-Jones says the Brumbies need to stabilise their play-off bid.
”At this time of year it’s important to get into a culture of winning tight games. It’s a culture of digging deep, not giving up and working hard for the victory,” Farr-Jones said.
”It’s dangerous to defend leads. You’ve got to keep playing attacking, aggressive football that you’ve trained and worked towards. Whether there’s a bit of mental scarring from last year and it’s starting to come to the surface, who knows.
”But the Brumbies just have to play open, free, attacking rugby and enjoy themselves or you can get into a rut.”
The Blues are having a stronger season this year and have been bolstered by the appointment of head coach John Kirwan and All Blacks World Cup-winning mentor Graham Henry as his assistant. They have a team of All Blacks – including Rene Ranger, Piri Weepu and Ali Williams – but White said the contest was about restoring the Brumbies’ confidence. ”We’ve created an opportunity for us to win the competition; we don’t want to knock over hurdles when we know we can get results,” he said. ”Talking about it is easy but it’s about making sure actions speak louder than words.”