Fri 24 Jan 2014 | 10:12

Why Ewen backs Brumbies for finals

Why Ewen backs Brumbies for finals
Fri 24 Jan 2014 | 10:12

Why Ewen backs Brumbies for finals


Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie has backed the Brumbies to build on their apperance in the Super Rugby final last season and to challenge for top honours again this year.

The former Reds head coach has been visiting the Australian Super Rugby squads to keep an eye on their pre-season preparations and has given his view on how they are shaping up.

McKenzie thinks that the experience of reaching last year's final, via a 26-23 semifinal win over the Bulls in Pretoria, will stand the Brumbies in good stead in 2014.

"I think they will be really motivated. Half the battle of Super Rugby is the relentless competition but once you get a taste of it and understand what it takes to get there, you get to understand it better. They have the benefit of knowing how to do it!", McKenzie said.

"There is a lot there for them to build on and they still have the guts of the side still there and the same mentality so I don’t see there is any reason why they would have lower expectations than a finals birth", the former Stade Français mentor added.

Former coach Jake White has moved on to the Sharks and has been replaced by the new coaching structure of Head Coach Stephen Larkham and Director of Rugby Laurie Fisher but McKenzie does not see that as a problem.

"Everyone was happy and their new set up at the Australian Institute of Sport looks great. They were in good spirits and training well", he said.

McKenzie says he has confidence in Waratahs coach Michael Cheika to return the glory days to Sydney-based franchise which has not made the finals series since 2011.

In his first year in the role in 2013, Chieka's charges ended 9th on the Super Rugby standings, but McKenzie thinks they will improve this season.

"Michael is a very experienced coach and he knows what he needs to do to succeed in that role. The lofty heights of competition, well he’s experienced that in Europe so he knows what that looks like. I can’t think of a better guy to take that outfit and try and take it forward."

"At the moment they are not there, but they’ve been there before so there is no reason why they can’t again", McKenzie said.

Turning to the side he coached last year, McKenzie thinks the Reds will have good continuity in the coaching department despite his departure and he feels he has left the new man in charge a competitive squad to work with.

"[New head coach] Richard [Graham] had a great entrée last year in terms of what the Reds are about with his work with his defence role. There are a lot of good players there and selection headaches everywhere, so it should be exciting", he said.

Despite making the qualifying finals round last season, the 2011 champions will need to improve their form in South Africa if they are to challenge for the top honours this season however, McKenzie has warned.

"If you want to finish higher in the competition you have to be taking on the South Africans over there and winning. That hasn’t been the case [with the Reds] in the last couple of years", the former Australian Test prop added.

McKenzie thinks that the new acquisitions at The Force will give the team a boost for 2014.

The Perth-based franchise has brought in many new players from South Africa including Marcel Brache, Wilhelm Steenkamp and Chris Heiberg as well as some new signings from their fellow Australian franchises such as former Reds wing Luke Morahan and former Brumbies Ian Prior and Zack Holmes.

"There has been a lot of change for The Force on and off the field. "

"Everyone talks a lot about the South African element there but I saw a lot of young powerful players which is handy in any team! There has been some astute acquisitions there and culturally I saw some dedicated, happy guys. I think they seemed pretty excited about how they are going", McKenzie said.

The Rebels need to improve their defence this season, acoording to the Wallabies head coach, and he thinks they have the right man in charge to do just that, and if they can they will could cause a few upsets along the way.

"I think if we saw one thing they would be keen to change, I think that would be defence side of things. Tony McGahan [Rebels head coach] has done a great job down there, remodelling the culture on and off the field. I was very impressed with what I saw and obviously his forte is defence."

"I saw a good team spirit and team culture down there and they are being well led. I can’t say that they won’t trouble teams as they go along and they’ll be looking to improve on last year," McKenzie added.

Source: ARU Media Unit

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