I well remember that first Brumbies training camp at Jindabyne in the lead up to the start of the inaugural Super 12 season in 1996.
In a bid to engage the media with the new team, the management invited us into the inner sanctum. I’m not sure how impressed the players were to have several journalists in the room as they laid bare their aspirations. But as Geoff Didier started singing at the restaurant, we were provided with a unique insight into what would go on to make the Brumbies such a unique sporting force.
It was a team created from locally bred players bolstered with veterans from Queensland and NSW, a number of whom felt as though they had a point to prove.
There was a renegade feel about this team and it was reflected in the open attacking style of football on show from the outset.
As such, the team I have selected as my top 15 in the Brumbies’ 25-year history is a manifestation of that philosophy, as well as players who were integral to the two premiership-winning teams in 2001 and 2004.
Starting at fullback: Both Andrew Walker and Joe Roff are the clear standouts. Both had enormous attacking flair. Roff was also an outstanding winger, one of the best ever. It is hard to leave either player out of the best Brumbies team of all time.
With this in mind, I have selected Andrew Walker at fullback and Joe Roff on the wing. Walker, in his four seasons with the Brumbies, had the ability to turn a game on its head.
Deciding on the other winger wasn’t as easy. In the end I went for Mark Gerrard ahead of three of my favourite players Joe Tomane, Graeme Bond and Clyde Rathbone. Gerrard on his day was unstoppable and made the most of being on the end of a brilliant backline.
At outside centre I have selected Stirling Mortlock who played 117 games for the Brumbies but cruelly missed both the 2001 and 2004 grand finals through injury.
The inside centre position isn’t as clear with two main contenders: Matt Giteau and Christian Leali’ifano. Leali’ifano played 148 games for the Brumbies and went close to guiding the team to the title before going down to the Chiefs in the 2013 final. Giteau played for the Brumbies in two stints, recording a total of 67 games for the team as well as 103 tests for the Wallabies.
I have gone for Matt Giteau at inside centre because of his ability to create something out of nothing through speed, coupled with his physicality.
There’s no contest in the halves with two of the Brumbies greatest players Steve Larkham and George Gregan filling ten and nine.
The back row is interesting because I wanted to include three players – Owen Finnegan, George Smith and Scott Fardy – even though none was regarded as a specialist number eight. Smith, arguably the Brumbies’ best player of all time picks himself at seven. I have gone for Fardy at eight and Finnegan at six, mainly because I found it hard to leave either player out of the 15.
At lock I have gone for David Giffin who was part of the two premiership-winning teams. Alongside Giffin, I found it hard to go past Rory Arnold who became the best lock in world rugby at the Brumbies. I selected Arnold ahead of some of the leading players in Australian rugby in the position including Dan Vickerman, Justin Harrison and Mark Chisholm.
At tighthead prop there are many contenders including Ben Darwin, who could also play loose-head. Ben was part of the 2001 team and probably would have played in the 2004 season had his career not been cut short through injury. Current Brumbies skipper Allan Alaalatoa has shown enough to suggest he could go on to become a Brumbies great. I have gone for Ben Darwin at tighthead.
At hooker it is impossible to go past two-time premiership player Jeremy Paul who revolutionised the concept of a ball playing hooker with the ability of an inside back.
At loose-head prop, I would select Bill Young who started in the two premierships. Young wasn’t the most fashionable of players but incredibly effective. He retired as the second most capped Wallaby prop of all time. I have selected Young ahead of the likes of Scott Sio. Sio, with over 100 Super Rugby caps, is unlucky not to have made the team.
Like the fan poll being conducted by the Brumbies to determine the top team in the past 25 years, mine is purely subjective. It’s a team brimming with a number of the greatest players in the history of the game, not just the Brumbies.