Champions Brumbies aware there's a target on their back
TITLE DEFENCE: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman is still four months away, but Brumbies star Rob Valetini is already eyeing a title challenge when Australia’s five Super Rugby sides go head-to-head with their New Zealand opposites.
It makes sense given the Brumbies stand as reigning Super Rugby AU champions after clinching the inaugural crown last year, a title Valetini and the Canberra-based franchise are eager to retain.
Now with two trophies up for grabs in 2021, the loose forward wants to push for winners’ medals in both Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman this year.
He knows it’s a feat that won’t come easy, though, given the Brumbies’ champion status in Australia and the quality of opposition across the ditch.
“Heading into this season, I think there’s going to be a target on our back having won last year,” Valetini told reporters from Brumbies headquarters earlier this week.
“But, yeah definitely, we want to win the season again and hopefully take that over to [the] Trans-Tasman [competition].
“Keen to [play] those NZ teams seeing as their comp was up there [in terms of quality], so I think [we want] to prove that we’re the best in Australia and then that we’re the best in Australia and New Zealand.”
Before the Australians do battle with the Kiwis, Valetini maintained that keeping hold of the Super Rugby AU trophy remains the Brumbies’ top priority with only three-and-a-half weeks until that tournament starts.
How the 22-year-old performs in either competition may go some way to determining how the Brumbies fare this year, especially after Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie left him with some advice following his sophomore year in test rugby.
After making his test debut in a World Cup warm-up clash against Samoa in 2019, Valetini came off the bench for Australia three times last year to bring his total test cap tally to four.
Still very inexperienced at the highest level of the game, the youngster’s exposure to the Wallabies set-up could yet prove vital to his development.
Without that time in the Australian national camp, he may never have been told by Rennie what he needs to improve ahead of this season.
“I had a bit of feedback from Dave Rennie, just on areas that I can work on with work rate and fitness, so just trying to work on those areas and try take my game to another level.”
Those improvements could make Valetini an integral member of the Brumbies squad as he enters his fourth season with the franchise.
Originally from Melbourne, Valetini was a schoolboy star, as he became just the second Australian forward to sign a Super Rugby deal while still in school, and made his NRC debut for the Melbourne Rising while still at Westall Secondary College.
However, his decision to throw his lot in with the Brumbies has proven to be a good one given the relationship he has with his teammates.
“Canberra I call my home now. It feels like that as well, with the boys and the culture that we have here,” Valetini said.
“We’ve got a lot of young boys here, so I just try to lead with my actions. I’m not really good with my words with the boys, so I just try to lead with my actions on the field or on the training paddock.”
Those “young boys” include new loose forward recruits Rory Scott and Luke Reimer.
The 2018 Australian Schools duo were two of five players promoted to the senior squad from the Brumbies academy and will compete with the likes of Valetini for places in the back row this year.
Valetini said he has already felt the energy provided by the pair at pre-season training, with Scott earning the nickname ‘Poey’ due to his resemblance to Brumbies and Wallabies legend David Pocock.
“They’re fit and fast. Rory gives it his all. His nickname is Poey for a reason. Runs like him, he’s built like him, he just goes crazy.”
Valetini, Scott and Reimer could all make their first outings of the year when the Brumbies open their Super Rugby AU season against the Western Force at HBF Park in Perth on February 19.