Loyalty is a driving force in the life of Steve Larkham. So it should have come as no surprise when he opted to return home to coach the Brumbies for a second stint.
He grew up playing for Wests in the local competition before going on to play for the ACT, then the Brumbies and the Wallabies.
Larkham was apparently even hesitant about playing for the Canberra Vikings in the Sydney competition given his allegiance to Wests.
There was never a prospect of him playing for any team beyond the Brumbies in Australian rugby. It’s the same with his coaching pathway.
There was no thought of coaching any other team than the Brumbies in Australia.
After retiring, he became an assistant coach before taking over from Jake White at the end of the 2013 season.
There was immediately an expectation that the Brumbies would play the same way as Larkham and the Brumbies of the mid-90s to the mid-2000s.
That was easier said than done with the Brumbies criticised for their defensive style of play. And during that time, the Brumbies were ranked no lower than sixth in his four years in charge of the Super Rugby team.
He had a bruising stint as Michael Cheika’s assistant with the Wallabies before joining the Munster coaching staff as a senior coach for three seasons in charge of the backs.
As Steve returns to Canberra as the Brumbies’ head coach, he returns as a better coach with many lessons learned in the Pro14 and European Championship competitions.
“I’d like to think I have taken a lot from the experiences coaching overseas,” says Steve. “I’ve learnt a lot.”
But it was probably off the field that Steve believes there has been the greater learning.
“There has been significant growth in handling players off the field.”
He says when he headed to Munster in 2019, at the forefront of his mind was a desire to one day return to the Brumbies as a better coach, bolstered by the experience of coaching overseas.
“It was always my intention to come back. The timing has worked well with the family.”
And he was never going to coach against the Brumbies.
Larkham returns with the assistant coaching roles well established. Laurie Fisher, Dan Palmer and Rod Seib are back for another season.
Steve is under no illusions about the task ahead, with rugby struggling for attention in Australia and Canberra, with poor crowds impacting the code.
Larkham believes one of the keys to growth is establishing a greater connection with the Canberra community to get more people to the games.
He says the Brumbies need to embrace the community.
From there, it shouldn’t be difficult to get people to games, and as all Brumbies supporters know, the product is very good.
In the opening media conference on his return to the Brumbies, Steve stepped straight into the debate over the proposed Indoor Stadium in Civic.
And his response: “We are definitely behind this.”
This was said with the same courage he showed when running full tilt into the teeth of an All Black defensive line. This was a defensive line renowned for man-handling fly halves and then spitting them out.
Welcome back, Steve.