With kick-off for the 2020 season just under three months’ away, the off-season for all 15 franchises will soon turn into pre-season, meaning the finalisation of each team’s squad lists is imminent.
The Brumbies became the first side in the competition to do just that leading into the next chapter of Super Rugby, as head coach Dan McKellar named his 37-man squad for next year on Monday.
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McKellar’s side is absent of 14 players who were signed with the Canberra-based club in 2019, with the biggest omissions being the team’s five exiting Wallabies – David Pocock (Panasonic Wild Knights), Christian Lealiifano (NTT Communications Shining Arcs), Rory Arnold (Toulouse), Henry Speight (Reds) and Sam Carter (Ulster).
Both Kuenzle and Lolesio were members of the Brumbies squad this year, although neither took to the field, while Pasitoa – who was part of the Australian U18 side which defeated New Zealand Schools last month – is one of 10 recruits for the upcoming season.
“I think we’ve lost some experienced players but we’re really comfortable in the boys that we’ve brought in because they’ve been in our program for a couple of years now,” McKellar said upon his squad announcement.
Sonny Bill Williams' rumoured move from rugby union to rugby league could bring with it a switch of allegiance at the international level of the 13-man game.https://t.co/oh9lSkf07O
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 4, 2019
“Obviously Christian’s the one that most people will talk about, captain and 10, but the options we’ve got there in Kuenzle, Lolesio and Pasitoa, those guys, the first two in particular have been around our program for a number of years.
“They know how we play, they know what’s expected of them and we’ve worked hard with them to make sure that they’re ready to thrive at this level.”
The 43-year-old coach suggested the departures of Lealiifano and fellow Wallabies playmakers Bernard Foley and Quade Cooper to offshore clubs has opened up opportunities for first-fives around Australia to put their hand up and make a name for themselves with vacant spots in the national side on the line.
“There’s enormous opportunity across the board and that position in particular,” he said.
“That’s the cycle now, isn’t it, after a World Cup? Guys getting towards the back end of their career all look to move on and look for new experiences so it’s that time now where there’s huge opportunity for a number of players within our squad.”
Despite the loss of vast experience within the Brumbies set-up, McKellar was confident of his investment in youth in his much-changed squad, which still features 10 internationally-capped players.
Highly-promising Australia U20 second-rower Nick Frost has returned to his homeland after spending a year-and-a-half with Canterbury and the Crusaders across the Tasman, while loose forward Will Miller has moved south from the Waratahs to replace the ball-fetching Pocock.
Tighthead prop Shambeckler Vui joins Miller in relocating from Sydney to the nation’s capital in search of more game time.
As exclusively reported by RugbyPass earlier this year, ex-NRL star Solomone Kata has made the switch from rugby league to rugby union, being named as one of five outside back in McKellar’s side alongside discarded Wallabies fullback Tom Banks and former Chiefs speedster Toni Pulu.
4 more years?
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 3, 2019
“It’s not like we’re starting from scratch and have to bring in a different style of play or that sort of thing,” McKellar said of his new team.
“Those boys are really comfortable and we’re comfortable with them and we’re not going to get to round one and everything’s going to click and be the same as it was against the Sharks in the quarter-final or anything like that, but we need to just progress and build throughout the season and start better than we have over the last couple of years.
“We don’t want to get to round six and be 2-4 or anything like that. It’s no good for my blood pressure and certainly not Phil’s [CEO Phil Thompson] so we’ll sort that out.”
The Brumbies will get their season underway against the Reds at GIO Stadium in Canberra on January 31, a fortnight earlier than when they opened their 2019 campaign with a 34-27 defeat at the hands of the Rebels.
An earlier kick-off date means McKellar will have less time to gel his squad together, but with the Wallabies’ ill-fated World Cup campaign coming to an end in October, members of Michael Cheika’s squad will be available to train with their Super Rugby franchises before Christmas.
It’s an added bonus for McKellar, who normally doesn’t get his internationals back until January following the November end-of-year tour of the northern hemisphere.
“We’ll get them back a little earlier this year which is a good thing but obviously it’s an early start as well, time is of the essence,” he said.
The Brumbies have also previously confirmed that Wallabies halfback Nic White will be joining the squad in 2021 once his contract with the Exeter Chiefs finished at the end of the current European club season.
Brumbies 2020 Super Rugby squad
IN: Harry Lloyd (Western Force), Shambeckler Vui (Waratahs), Lachlan Lonergan (Canberra Vikings), Nick Frost (Crusaders Development), Cadeyrn Neville (Toyota Industries Shuttles), Will Miller (Waratahs), Issak Fines (Western Force), Reesjan Pasitoa (Nudgee College), Guy Porter (Sydney University), Solomone Kata (Melbourne Storm)
OUT: Vunipola Fifita (released), Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin (Kurita Water Gush), Angus Wagner (Western Force), Josh Mann-Rea (retired), Rory Arnold (Toulouse), Sam Carter (Ulster), Ben Hyne (released), David Pocock (Panasonic Wild Knights), Matt Lucas (Ricoh Black Rams), Christian Lealiifano (NTT Communications Shining Arcs), Wharenui Hawera (Kubota Spears), Jordan Jackson-Hope (Toyota Shuttles Industries), Lausii Taliauli (Southland), Chance Peni (Hino Red Dolphins)
Hookers: Folau Fainga’a, Lachlan Lonergan, Connal McInerney
Halfback: Issak Fines, Ryan Lonergan, Joe Powell
First-Five: Bayley Kuenzle, Noah Lolesio, Reesjan Pasitoa
Outside Backs: Tom Banks, Mack Hansen, Solomone Kata, Andrew Muirhead, Toni Pulu
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