From the team’s inception, the Brumbies have always seemed to have a strong culture, perhaps not always positive, but a strong culture all the same. When you look back on teams of the past and the coaches that have lead the Brumbies, you can almost align a particular culture with each coach.
For the Macqueen era, it was based on innovation and challenge, Fast Eddie brought a hard-edged professionalism that delivered the first Super 12 title to the province. The Nucifora era was one of player power and independence, which not only saw another Super 12 title won by the team, but also cost the coach his job.
Then you come to the Lord Lauire era. It is hard to get an exact feeling of what the Brumbies were about during that tenure. As senior players retired or moved overseas, the Brumbies started to lose their dominance of the Australian rugby landscape, it was as if the underlying culture of success had left the club also.
The team seemed to sleep walk through 2008 after it was announced that Fisher’s contract would not be renewed and it was in this climate of decline and decay, that Andy Friend took over as Brumbies coach at the start of 2009 season.
Friend, a product of the ACT rugby system, immediately set about changing the culture of the team. He called up Brumbies old-boys Owen Finegan from the Brumbies Academy and Bill Young to the senior coaching team. He also took the dramatic step of replacing Stirling Mortlock with Stephen Hoiles as Captain. Friend then added a bit of “left-field” with rugby coaching debutant and ex-mungo, Tony Rea, as skills and defensive coach.
Speaking recently to G&GR, Friend outlined the key changes he implemented to affect the cultural change that was necessary at the Brumbies.
“I’m a big believer in values, and that’s what we’ve tried to implement here at the Brumbies, a team culture based on values. We operate on five core values; respect, personal responsibility and integrity, work ethic, focusing on the positives and the final very simple one of mistakes aren’t fatal. We worked very hard on introducing those values and getting buy-in from the players along the way”
“Linked into that, I’m also a big believer in the person rather than just the football side of things. Obviously the football side of things is massively important, but as an employer, you need to know your people and find out about them”
“We went on an outward bound course for five days (at the start of the season) which exposed people’s real personalities and got people working collectively. I thought that was fascinating for the group. It gave the players a good insight into themselves and other people, and along with the values, probably kick-started the culture we’ve got”
It was fairly clear that the Brumbies on-field performances improved markedly this season and the team was in the race for the finals right up until the final weekend of the competition. Responding to where the Brumbies improved this season, Friend links the on-field performance to gains made off the field.
“I thought our work-ethic improved, definitely, and some of our standards also improved. We have a saying down here to “get your foot over the line”. I was happy with some of the disciplines we brought into training and into the program. We still have some way to go, but I was happy with those”
“The other big one (improvement) was the way as a collective group, the management and the players, built relationships over the course of the year. I think we’re in a very health spot with regard to that.”
“On the field, we certainly introduced more of a kicking game. We ended up kicking five field goals, which is probably a record in Brumbies history We definitely kicked a bit more than the Brumbies teams of the past which is part of the game now.”
“We also spent a lot of time on our set piece with Bill Young working with the scrum and Owen Finegan on our line-out. I think we turned around our set piece which had been very, very poor the previous year into a real dynamic platform.”
“Tony Rea was also outstanding working with our defence. I thought defensively throughout the course of the year we got better and better, and our best defensive effort was definitely our last game against the Chiefs”
With the Brumbies absolutely killing it in the recruitment arena for next season, and the clear squeeze that will be on for starting spots, it is a massive positive for the club that very few players have opted to jump ship. An obvious example of this is the case of Mitch Chapman.
Despite being out of contract and chased by other teams, Chapman decided to stay put at the Brumbies even with the full knowledge that he would be behind Rocky Elsom at the start of next season. Indeed the much sought after Elsom himself said the major reason for his sudden signing with Brumbies was his belief in the direction the Brumbies were headed for in 2010.
Friend explained his thoughts as to why the Brumbies were ‘the’ team to play for.
“There is a feeling of professionalism when you get involved with the club. It’s very well run from the CEO Andrew Fagan and Board down. We’ve got a quality coaching staff who’ve got a lot of experience, and then you’ve got a group of players who live in a tight community and are involved in the community. When players immerse themselves in that community they find it quite enjoyable. That sort of stuff gets over the hurdle of the weather because you’ve got all these other things going on,” laughs Friend.
But more seriously, he hints at a tangible reason as to why the Brumbies have assembled so much talent.
“We are still the only Australian team that has won the tournament, on two occasions in fact, and therefore we’ve done it, so there’s the expectation we can do it again – and people want to be involved in winning teams”
You might think that after the tumultuous season that Friend endured, he would be looking forward to some time off. Not so – when Friend spoke to G&GR he and some of his coaching team were just about to head to Samoa to work with that countries National squad and rugby program. Once again, a theme of being involved with community and constant improvement comes through.
“It’s a new thing we’ve just started (going to Samoa) to not only assist us with our coaching, but also help them, one of our neighbours, in their quest to become better within the game and with a view to the 2011 World Cup.”
“We’re also doing a fair bit of work within the local area as well with club rugby. We go to games on weekends as a coaching group and also head to training sessions with the various clubs on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.”
“We got our Brumbies players that we continue to coach during the week, plus on-going recruitment stuff. We are virtually done for 2010, but we are starting off for 2011.”
“The other big thing we’ve got going on is hopefully a tour to France (now confirmed) at the end of July. It will be a two and a half week, four game tour which will be tremendous for the players who missed out on the Wallabies, but also those new players coming through.”
With the commitment, organisation and clarity of purpose that Andy Friend clearly has, it is no wonder the Brumbies are the go-ahead franchise in the Australia. It is something the other Australian clubs should take notice of and try to emulate.
I think we may have found an early favourite to take over the Wallabies when Robbie’s time comes to and end.