Brumbies turn to a Friend to bring back good times

The Brumbies are anticipating a return to their innovative best under new coach Andy Friend allowing them to spearhead Australia’s challenge for the Super 14 rugby series.

The Brumbies won the last of their two Super rugby titles five years ago in the golden George Gregan-Stephen Larkham era, but the Canberra-based franchise have faded as a force in the intervening four years.

That has precipitated the appointment of Andy Friend from the English Premiership club Harlequins back to his native Australia on a three-year contract to replace Laurie Fisher in search of a return to the good times.

In the 13 years of Super Rugby , the Brumbies have been the most intuitive and expressive Australian outfit, and Friend, a former assistant coach at the Waratahs, is entrusted with encouraging that attacking mindset.

The Brumbies have boosted their ranks with Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore from the Queensland Reds to further add to the experience of Wallaby skipper Stirling Mortlock, George Smith, Mark Chisholm, Mark Gerrard, Adam Ashley-Cooper and fit-again Clyde Rathbone.

“There is a lot of potential at the Brumbies,” Moore said. “On paper, we should have a pretty good side.

“There are quite a few players here who have won a Super Rugby title. There is a group of players who know what it’s all about. This place has a history of success. It’s an environment that expects results.”

Rathbone, the former South African under-21 skipper, has been grounded by chronic knee problems for two years and is working his way back to the top level after playing his last Test match for the Wallabies in 2006.

The Waratahs also have a new coach in Chris Hickey after going down 20-12 to the Crusaders in last year’s final under Ewen McKenzie.

The Waratahs are rated Australia’s best title chance by bookmakers, but have lost plenty of experience, particularly in the forwards, with the departure overseas of second-rower Dan Vickerman and back-rowers Rocky Elsom and David Lyons.

Add to that the loss through injury of Wallaby prop, Matt Dunning, who is out for a lengthy spell after snapping an Achilles tendon in Australia’s win over the Barbarians in London last December.

But Hickey points out that the Sydney outfit do have 15 Wallabies.

“A lot of Super 14 caps have gone there,” Hickey said. “We feel there are young blokes there who will go a long way to covering those losses.

“It is still a good roster when you have that many Wallabies in your team. It is just in a few positions that we needed to build.”

The Waratahs have some exciting backline youngsters — scrum-half Luke Burgess, fly-half Kurtley Beale, centre Rob Horne and winger Lachie Turner — looking to build on last season’s promise.

The Western Force, eighth last season, have had an unsettled off-season with the organisation taking the extraordinary step of setting up an independent inquiry into complaints from players and staff about John Mitchell, which led to the former All Blacks’ coach, for a short period, being placed on restricted duties.

Mitchell is said to alienate the more sensitive of players with his forthright, and sometimes obsessive, manner, but Force say the players and Mitchell have come to a “positive understanding”.

The Perth franchise has boosted its scrummaging with the recruitment of former Junior All Black tighthead prop Ben Castle and are relieved that Wallaby fly-half Matt Giteau has decided to stay this season following speculation that he would return to the Brumbies because of money owed to him by a third party.

The Reds, who have wallowed in the bottom three for the last five seasons, are talking up their chances under second-year coach Phil Mooney with new acquisitions, Kiwi Daniel Braid and former Canberra Raiders rugby league back Mark McLin

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