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'His legacy will be carried on': Brumbies eye dream farewell for outgoing boss

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa says much of his side’s motivation for the upcoming Super Rugby Pacific campaign is to give departing head coach Dan McKellar a fairytale farewell.

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McKellar will end his five-year tenure in charge of the Brumbies at the end of this season to take up a full-time role as forwards coach of the Wallabies.

The 45-year-old’s position with the Australian national side was one he first took on last year, but he will move into the role on a permanent basis later this year as the Wallabies continue to build towards next year’s World Cup in France.

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As such, McKellar will bring the curtain down on his lengthy stay at the Brumbies, which began when he joined the Canberra-based side as an assistant coach in 2014 before taking over from Stephen Larkham as head coach four years later.

Coincidentally, Larkham will succeed McKellar as Brumbies head coach in 2023 and 2024, but, for the time being, Alaalatoa is focused on ensuring “great, great things” for the latter in his final season at the franchise.

“As players, we want to make sure that, firstly in our preparation, we don’t leave no stone unturned because, for us, we want to finish on a high, and I think understanding that it is Dan’s last year, it’s a huge motivator for us,” Alaalatoa said.

“It’s something that we’ll probably remind each other of throughout the year, but, I think in terms of preparation, it just helps the boys to understand that, in order for us to get a win or to do great, great things for Dan in his last year, we’ve got to make sure that we prepare really well.

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“Dan definitely won’t bring it up in the team meeting, but I think it’s something that other coaches and myself can bring up throughout the year.”

The player-led consensus to send McKellar off in successful fashion is reflective of his standing within the Brumbies set-up and his quality as a coach.

Under his guidance, the Brumbies reached the 2019 Super Rugby semi-finals, claimed the inaugural Super Rugby AU title in 2020, finished as Super Rugby AU runners-up in 2021 and were one of only two Australian teams to register wins in last year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

Their title-winning domestic campaign in 2020 was the first time the Brumbies had won a piece of silverware since their 2004 Super 12 success.

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It’s easy to understand, then, why Wallabies head coach Dave Rennie headhunted McKellar to join the Australian coaching staff in a move that Alaalatoa said left him “devastated” for the Brumbies.

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In saying that, Alaalatoa – who, as a 53-test Wallabies tighthead prop, will continue to be coached by McKellar at test level – acknowledged that the Brumbies boss had “earned his stripes” for his new role.

“From a player [perspective] here, you’re obviously devastated that he has to leave, but every year that I’ve been of here at the Brumbies, Dan has been involved as well and, from my perspective, he’s helped me grow as a player and as a person,” he said.

“I know that through those eight-to-nine years, he’s been solely committed to the Brumbies and making sure that he’s doing every can to push this franchise forward, and I think that his legacy will definitely be carried on by coaches and players who’s left here afterward.

“I think he’s definitely earned his stripes for the [Wallabies] job, but I know that he is solely committed to the Brumbies season this year, making sure he does everything he can to help us as players to achieve our goal.”

McKellar reaffirmed his dedication to the Brumbies for the entirety of their Super Rugby Pacific season by outlining his intention of taking down “the best teams in the competition”.

The Brumbies kick their season off against the Western Force at HBF Park in Perth on February 19.

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