The job is not done. That’s my message to the ACT Brumbies players this week as we prepare to play our first finals game in nine years. The foundations for this Brumbies team to rise into the finals were put in place long before we touched a ball or started training together.
They were put in place when we started a physical rebuild.
We painted walls, fixed up a kitchen and rebuilt the club’s Griffith headquarters before the start of last season.
Our game against the Free State Cheetahs on Sunday is the next step in our journey to transform the rugby program in Canberra.
Our theme for the rebuild was simple - ”Back to the future”. We wanted an environment conducive to improvement and winning back respect.
I’m very proud of the way our boys have gone from no-hopers and into the playoffs. We know the history of Brumbies teams before us - champions in 2001 and 2004 and regular finalists.
But for whatever reason, that history and feeling went missing.
Now I feel like we’ve got a rugby club, there’s a rugby atmosphere.
It’s great to know that since we started painting the doors in the clubrooms and the little things we did, they’re starting to pay dividends now.
But that doesn’t mean the job is done. It means we’re on our journey of going back to the future.
When you get an emotional response from ex-players when they hand jerseys to the players or talk about what the Brumbies means to them, that’s what makes this finals game special.
It’s the first time in almost a decade the club and Canberra’s community has had a chance to see a playoff match in the capital.
I would love to see a sellout crowd watching us play the Cheetahs for the first time this season.
People underestimate how much of a lift the players get from seeing full grandstands, especially in do-or-die Super Rugby games.
We’ve learnt our lessons from the disappointment of last year when we missed the finals.
I’m excited for this opportunity. People in finals situations look to players who have been there and done it before.
The young guys will look to Clyde Rathbone, Stephen Larkham, George Smith and Laurie Fisher - guys who have won this before - for a bit of guidance.
A lot of people have asked me this week whether our last-round loss to the Western Force last week was a momentum killer.
The reality is it didn’t kill any momentum because it was our first game in four weeks. But the most interesting point for me was then the Force - a team playing for nothing but pride - grabbed the ball in the dying seconds and kicked the ball into the stands and celebrated.
To me, that was a sign the Brumbies are getting respect back.
If the Force had picked the ball up and tried to score a try despite holding on to a lead, that would have been harder to swallow.
I remember when South African teams feared coming to Canberra to play against the Brumbies. You just knew if the Brumbies were on song they could embarrass teams and they did it many times.
The teams that win playoff games are the ones that stick to what they’re supposed to do.
This is the next step in our journey back to where want to be. We want to be champions.
Congrats to Jordan Smiler, making his debut this weekend in New Zealand! The brumbies are now tied in second place on the ladder with the chiefs after last weekends draw against the Kings. GO BRUMBIES!