White: 'Timely wake-up call'
The Western Force may have given conference rivals the Brumbies a timely wake-up call ahead of the Super Rugby play-offs.
The stunned the Brumbies 21-15 win in their final league match. Anchored near the bottom of the ladder, the unfancied Force scored the first three tries of the match to post one of the major upsets of the year – notching just their fourth win to finish a tough season on a high note.
Fortunately for the Brumbies, they had already booked their berth in the play-offs so the result did not have any significant repercussions, aside from dented confidence heading into the business end of the season.
The Brumbies would have been rewarded with second spot on the standings – which would have brought with it a bye in week one of the play-offs and a home semifinal – had they secured a bonus-point victory against the Force.
Instead, their embarrassing showing means they now need to win three games – including two on the road – if they are to snare this year's title.
Their quest begins in Canberra next Sunday, when they take on South Africa's unpredictable Cheetahs in the opening round of the play-offs – effectively quarterfinals.
A win in that encounter would propel the Australian conference leaders into a daunting semifinal showdown with the Bulls in Pretoria a week later.
Brumbies coach Jake White hopes his team's horror showing against the Force will end up being the wake-up call they needed heading into the play-offs.
A whopping 17 handling errors combined with a series of brain fades consigned the Brumbies to the shock defeat.
White conceded his team were mentally off their game against the Force, but backed them to return to their clinical best against the Cheetahs.
"We know we can't get any worse than we were," White said.
"It's going to be a wake-up call now.
"We have now obviously got the low road in that we've got to play three games if we want to win the championship.
"But it's not all doom or gloom.
"We know we've played a lot of good rugby this year.
"We can't be worrying about the fact [of whether] this is going to dent any confidence."
In a quirk of the fixtures, the Brumbies and Cheetahs haven't met this year.
Brumbies captain Ben Mowen said the result was a timely wake-up call for the Brumbies.
"We didn't play good territory all game and our kicking really let us down," he said.
"The Force were extremely enthusiastic and played the conditions well.
"They played smart footy and exposed us.
"It is probably a really good wake-up call for us going into a finals campaign.
"We are fortunate we have another chance to play next week."
Mowen said the Brumbies still believed they could win the Super Rugby title.
Although the Brumbies have won four of their past five encounters against the Bloemfontein-based side, they only prevailed by a point when the teams met in Canberra last year.
The Cheetahs have enjoyed their best season to date with a strong all-round attacking game and solid defence, and will be aiming to make their maiden finals appearance a memorable one.
The Brumbies haven't featured in the post-season since winning the title in 2004, and remain quietly confident of going all the way despite their flop against the Force.
But they will need fullback Jesse Mogg and flyhalf Matt Toomua to regain their mojo if they are to achieve their goal of winning the title.
Both players endured a shocker against the Force, with Toomua committing the most basic of errors when he forgot to ground the ball after catching a wayward shot at goal by Force fullback Jayden Hayward.
Sources: AAP & AFP