Super Rugby

Larkham backs Brumbies to return stronger

Stephen Larkham (Gallo)
Stephen Larkham (Gallo)

Canberra - The Brumbies' 35-16 defeat to the Hurricanes on home soil in Friday's Super Rugby quarter-final was a tough way to end their campaign but outgoing coach Stephen Larkham has forecast a bright future for the Canberra side.

The Brumbies fell to the reigning champions at Canberra Stadium for the first time in seven years, the defeat ending Australia's involvement in the competition two weeks early.

Larkham departs to focus on his assistant coaching role with the Wallabies full-time and leaves the Brumbies with a sound record, having guided them to the playoffs in each of his three seasons in charge from 2015-17 and as part of a co-coaching set-up with Laurie Fisher in 2014. 

Following the departure of a raft of seasoned players at the end of last season, the Brumbies were widely expected to slide out of contention for this year's playoffs.

In the end, a modest 6-9 win-loss record was enough to top the struggling Australian conference and capture an automatic berth into the postseason.

"I think they said that we were going to come fourth in the Australian conference," a defiant Larkham told local media. 

"We certainly achieved a few things this year and put ourselves in a really strong position for next year. 

"Some guys are moving on from the squad this year but we'll get some new faces in there." 

Following on from Larkham's rise to head coach after serving as an assistant to Jake White, incoming coach Dan McKellar has also been promoted from within. 

Former head coach Fisher will return to Canberra as forwards coach after an ill-fated stint at English Premiership club Gloucester. 

McKellar and Fisher will welcome back David Pocock next season after the world class flanker took a year's sabbatical and they will also hope to see more of former Wallabies playmaker Christian Lealiifano. 

After being diagnosed with leukaemia less than a year ago, Lealiifano played the second half off the bench against the Hurricanes but there was to be no fairytale return against the New Zealanders, who sealed the match with two late tries to set up a semi-final against either the Lions or the Sharks. 

The Brumbies face another exodus of big names, including former Wallabies blindside flank Scott Fardy and wing Joe Tomane, while Argentina scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli and backrowers Jarrad Butler and Jordan Smiler will also depart. 

However, fans will be buoyed by the development of a pair of young talents in fullback Tom Banks and scrumhalf Joe Powell, who made his Wallabies debut in June. 

Finding new avenues to score will be foremost on the minds of the Brumbies' staff. 

Even with the extra game played for the quarterfinal, the Brumbies' total of 43 tries ranked them third of the five teams in the Australian conference and a far cry from the output of any of the dominant New Zealand sides. 

The Hurricanes have scored 93 – and counting.

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