The Brumbies have made no secret of how tough pre-season has been as they prepare to defend their Super Rugby AU title over the coming months.
A three-day camp in the rural ACT township of Jindabyne earlier this week set the tone for the campaign ahead, and that was followed by a return to Brumbies headquarters in Canberra where veteran second-rower Cadeyrn Neville was blunt about his side’s training levels.
“Pretty much left off where we finished just before Christmas. Very hard every day. Looking forward to the weekend,” he told reporters on Friday.
Perhaps the competition for places at lock in the Brumbies’ starting lineup is the reason behind the arduous pre-season for the 32-year-old, who was called into the Wallabies squad as injury cover last year on the back of his efforts in Super Rugby.
A frontrunner to partner Neville in the second-row is new recruit James Tucker, the Australian-born New Zealander who has crossed the ditch for a proper crack at Super Rugby following injury-plagued spells with the Chiefs and Blues.
Behind them, though, are a trio of youngsters who are nipping at the heels of Neville as they look to fill the voids left by Murray Douglas and Blake Enever.
“You’ve got Darce [Darcy Swain] and Frosty [Nick Frost] both pushing on from where they picked off last season, they both want to go to another level, and then you got Tom Hooper coming through in their footsteps as well, and he’s certainly not giving any less than they are at the moment,” Neville said.
Those comments suggest that Frost is beginning to realise the potential many saw in him after he made headlines for snubbing the Waratahs as a teenager to try his luck in the Canterbury and Crusaders youth systems in October 2017.
After turning out for the Crusaders Knights and Canterbury U19 sides, Frost returned to Australia in 2019 and made his Super Rugby debut for the Brumbies off the bench against the Melbourne Rebels last February.
Now into the second season of his two-year deal with the reigning Super Rugby AU champions, the 21-year-old will be eager to impress with his contract expiry date on the horizon.
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Swain, meanwhile, has been of the Brumbies set-up since 2018, and featured regularly throughout his side’s title-winning campaign, starting in five of their nine matches.
At just 23-years-old, Swain has plenty still to offer, as does new signing Tom Hooper, who is one of five players who earned promotion from the Brumbies academy to the senior squad for the 2021 season.
With so much youth around him, Neville said there was a noticeable boost in energy at trainings with nobody’s place in the starting side guaranteed.
“It’s awesome. I can see the hunger in everything they do. It’s not like I need to be pushed to have the competition within myself, but they’re definitely making it known [that they’re there].”
Just who will receive starting honours when the Brumbies open their season against the Western Force in Perth on February 19 remains to be seen, but new assistant coach Rod Seib indicated the squad was eager to rip into their fixtures as soon as possible.
“Everyone’s looking really good. There’s a lot of sore bodies out there. Pre-season’s the time where we get a lot of work under our belt, so the guys have been working really hard and I know we’re looking forward to getting into games,” he said.
“This stage of the year, you get a lot of players who can be over pre-season because of the workload and are looking forward to getting into that competitive element.”
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