31 March 2023

Brumbies' resting development a high-stakes gamble against the Waratahs

| Tim Gavel
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The Brumbies vs Waratahs game at Canberra Stadium

The Brumbies vs Waratahs during the 2022 season at Canberra Stadium. Photo: Jennifer Andrew.

In the 2017 Super Rugby season, the Brumbies rested 12 players for the final-round game against the Chiefs.

The Brumbies went down to the Chiefs 28-10 before being knocked out in the quarter-final the following weekend by the Hurricanes.

The most infamous case of resting players took place in 2001, when the Waratahs rested a number of key players for the final regular game of the season, having already secured a place in the playoffs.

In theory, it looks tactically fine. It keeps key players fresh for the start of the finals the following week.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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The Crusaders on that day in Christchurch, admittedly, were red hot against the Waratahs, who up until that game were the top defensive side in the competition.

Defence had the night off on 11 May 2002 as the Crusaders ran roughshod over the Waratahs crossing for 14 tries.

The scoreboard struggled to keep up as the Crusaders scored more than a point a minute in the 96-19 victory.

So rattled were the Waratahs, even with a bolstered lineup the following weekend, they were hammered 51-10 by the Brumbies on the first weekend of the playoffs.

This brings us to the present day as the Brumbies prepare to face the Waratahs at GIO Stadium on Saturday night, having rested a number of key players last weekend in the 35-17 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch.

The Brumbies will be strengthened by the return of up to seven Wallabies, who were either rested or unavailable through injury for the Crusaders game.

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With the World Cup later this year, the Brumbies, by virtue of their success face greater disruption through the Wallabies’ resting policy than any other Australian team.

With up to nine players to be rested for two games through the Super Rugby season and the expectation that none of those identified players will play more than five weeks in a row, it has become a juggling act for coach Steve Larkham.

Would it have been better to rest the players for the game against Moana Pacifika rather than the Crusaders?

The Moana Pacifika game was at GIO, so effectively it was an acknowledgment that the Brumbies fans go along to Canberra Stadium to see the Brumbies at their strongest.

It is why the Brumbies will be at close to full strength for one of the biggest games of the season thus far against their arch-rivals the Waratahs.

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Brumbies supporters would have felt robbed had the strongest line-up possible not been selected this weekend.

It’s a complicated path that Australian Super Rugby coaches have to navigate and, in many respects, it’s important to have faith in their judgement.

The hope, of course, is that the momentum created through the first four rounds isn’t impacted by last weekend’s absence of key players and subsequent loss to the Crusaders.

A victory over the Waratahs will go a long way to getting the season back on track.

Safeguard Global ACT Brumbies take on the Waratahs at GIO Stadium tonight. Gates open at 5 pm. Tickets from Ticketek.

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