Brumbies to focus on bonus points

By Bret Harris
February 01, 2008

BRUMBIES coach Laurie Fisher is targeting more four-try wins in the Super 14 this year after a lack of bonus points cost the two-time champions a place in the semi-finals two years in a row.

The Brumbies have failed to reach the semi-finals during Fisher's three years at the helm, but on two occasions they have won more games than teams that finished in the top four.

In 2006 the sixth-placed Brumbies finished the regular season with 38 points, along with the fourth-placed Bulls and fifth-placed Sharks, their rankings determined by for and against.

But the Brumbies won eight games, while the Bulls and Sharks won seven each. The difference was the Bulls, who also drew a game, collected eight bonus points and the Sharks picked up 10, while the Brumbies managed only four.

Last year the Brumbies (9-4) came sixth even though they produced a better win/loss record than the third-placed Crusaders (8-5) and equalled the record of the fourth-placed Blues (9-4).

But the Crusaders amassed eight bonus points and the Blues six to the Brumbies' four.

The Brumbies were 12th in tries scored (22), ahead of only the Lions and wooden spooners Queensland Reds.

"We have always had an attacking mindset and philosophy, but we haven't delivered on this for a range of reasons," Fisher said.

"Primarily, just execution at the back end of games is the main thing.

"Sometimes, we lose a crucial set piece when we are in an attacking situation, or we might throw a bad pass or run the wrong support line. We are trying to tighten up all of the components of our game so we can complete our opportunities."

The Brumbies have not had any problems creating opportunities, but they have not been finishing them off.

Last year the Brumbies were fifth in the Super 14 in the number of line-breaks, but 14th in tries scored from those line-breaks.

"We want to create as many, if not more, opportunities, but be more polished in our finishing," Fisher said.

"We have some different options and we will be attacking differently. The experimental law variations may open things up a little bit more.

"We are looking at the nature of our support play and kicking game and delivering good set-piece ball."

The Brumbies experienced the same thing in the inaugural Super rugby season in 1996 when they finished fifth, but had more wins than the fourth-placed Natal.

"In the first year our goal was to get as many players into the Wallabies as possible, that's what drove everything," former Brumbies coach Rod Macqueen said.

"In the second year we talked about the competition and focused on things that get you into semi-finals. It's all about points."

The Brumbies' capacity to increase their try-scoring rate and collect more bonus points will be tested by the departure of veteran halves George Gregan and Stephen Larkham, as well as injuries to Wallabies captain and outside centre Stirling Mortlock and Test winger Clyde Rathbone.

Mortlock will miss the first half of the season because of a shoulder injury, while it is uncertain when Rathbone will recover from a knee injury.

"We've had some big changes," Fisher said. "We've lost a couple of wonderful players at the end of their careers.

"But we have players who are another year more experienced.

"We have some of the best young players in Australia coming through such as Julian Salvi and Josh Holmes. Adam Ashley-Cooper is still only 23.

"There is no shortage of good quality young players. It's an evolution. We are reasonably well placed to manage the process.

"We are a little bit compromised with one of the world's best players (Mortlock) out and Clyde is struggling.

"But the guys are working hard on their basic skills. We'll see how we go when we get tested."

The Brumbies play the first of two pre-season trials when they meet NSW Waratahs in Gosford tonight, but Fisher has rested the majority of his Wallabies.

The Brumbies will complete their preparation with a trial against the Hurricanes in Levin next Friday.

The Australian