When the Brumbies burst onto the sporting landscape in the inaugural 1996 Super Rugby season, they brought much-need flair to the game. They were renegades and played with an attacking spirit. Within a few years, it yielded a Super Rugby title in 2001 and a packed house at Canberra Stadium.
Now, 21 years later, the Brumbies are on a quest to win back supporters who have walked away from the game. This is despite some great seasons, including 2013 when the Brumbies made the Super Rugby final but failed to attract decent crowds to their home games.
There was disillusionment with coach Jake White’s game plan, which was effective but unattractive to an audience nurtured on the running rugby of that first decade.
The Brumbies were winning but it failed to resonate, putting to bed the myth that Canberrans will turn out in force to support a successful team no matter what.
It had become obvious to the Brumbies that supporters trekking to Canberra wanted to be entertained. When this didn’t happen, they found something else to do with their discretionary spending and time.
Last season the Brumbies, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, failed to attract a crowd of over 10,000.
It’s obvious this is not financially sustainable.
So as the Brumbies prepare to host the Western Force in the opening round of Super Rugby Pacific this weekend, the team will be on notice to entertain to win back the support of Canberra fans.
With Banks at fullback, Lolesio at fly-half, Wright on the wing, and White at halfback, there is no reason why the side shouldn’t be scoring tries through running rugby this season.
I know the rolling maul has resulted in plenty of tries for the Brumbies, but fans, with no disrespect to Lachie Lonergan and Folau Fainga’a, will be hoping a hooker isn’t the leading try scorer this season.
Rugby has at times created its own frustrations diminishing rugby as a spectacle. An example? Nothing frustrates fans looking to be entertained more than pedantic officiating, where the whistle seems to be a feature of the game.
Another frustration experienced by supporters heading to Canberra Stadium, a situation I witnessed a number of times, was the closure of the ticket booths at the ground because of COVID. With the box office closed, fans had to buy tickets online, yet there was no restriction on crowd capacity. This practice looks set to continue this season.
Despite these minor frustrations, there should be no limitations facing fans heading out to Canberra Stadium to watch the Brumbies this season.
There will be four blockbuster games, with the Brumbies facing the Waratahs, the Reds, the Crusaders and the Hurricanes. The first three games are at home, including several family-friendly afternoon fixtures.
It would appear the competition schedulers have listened to the concerns of supporters and the Brumbies themselves.
Everything possible has been put in place to get people back to Canberra Stadium for Brumbies games.
If it all comes together, the crowds will come.