Put your head in dark places for 80 minutes of incremental gains - and don’t get bored of it.
That disciplined mindset will be key for the Brumbies in shutting down Beauden Barrett and the Blues’ Ferrari backline in Auckland on Saturday to progress to the Super Rugby final, according to ACT and Wallabies halfback Nic White.
The Brumbies’ hopes of victory in the semi-final against the minor premier Blues will require them to shut down Super Rugby’s most electric back division, in which two-time World Rugby player of the year Barrett runs alongside former Dally M winner Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, All Blacks star Rieko Ioane and the in-form Stephen Perofeta.
With quick, clean ball, it is a Galacticos-style backline that can tear up rival teams. So the key, says White, will be to make the Blues’ possession as slow and muddy as possible.
“They don’t like to play too much footy when we meet them at the gain line,” White said. “If we can do that phase on phase on phase, he [Barrett] doesn’t look too interested in wanting that sort of ball. He is patient, and he’ll wait for their big boys to get them over the gainline.
“So we just have to deny them that and make him play off ball that isn’t on a platter, like he has getting for most of the season. That’s the plan. You just have to get it done.”
Barrett displayed his magic touch by sneaking the Blues home with an extra-time field-goal in Canberra in three weeks ago, and Tuivasa-Sheck is on the cusp of All Blacks selection after a seamless transition from the NRL.
But while the backs command attention, the effectiveness of the Blues’ forward pack has been under-rated all season. White said the Brumbies were aware the semi-final would be “war in the trenches”, decided by who can exhibit the most power and patience.
“We know they will put us under pressure, it’s semi-final footy. A lot of it will be around that gain line area, winning the collisions and winning the contact,” he said.
“It can be hard, telling yourself to put your head in a dark place and put your head in the spoke sometimes. Put your body in harm’s way. It is easier said than done, but it won’t be the fancy stuff that wins finals.
You can fall into the trap that you have to go out there and do something special and force a miracle play that’s not on ... it’s about, ‘Can you stay as disciplined as possible?’
“People think discipline is about penalties but we talk about discipline to stay within what works. A tough carry, a tough clean, a brutal carry into a brick wall that might get you only a metre but may open up an opportunity. Not searching for an easy out.”
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The Brumbies last-round defeat to Moana Pasifika two weeks ago cost the ACT men a third-place finish but the defeat could prove to be the wake-up call required, said White.
“It reinforced all those things,” White said. “We did start looking for the flashy option and the easy out or the quick try, instead of saying ‘lads, let’s be patient, keep working and win the game long battle’. It reinforced the things we had been doing well, because we didn’t do them. We said let’s get the focus back on doing what we knows works, and let’s stick at it and stick at it.
“And that’s that he (Dan McKellar) says when he says ‘don’t get bored of it’. Don’t get bored of doing the hard stuff first.”