Jake White has taken a leaf out of the playbook of legendary American Football coach Vince Lombardi as he looks to lead the Brumbies back to the Super Rugby finals.
Like Lombardi, White laid his foundations by punishing players on the training paddock and demanding discipline, and the Brumbies only need to beat the Blues at home on Saturday afternoon to take out the Australian Conference.
However, it’s a return to the small-town mentality mastered by Lombardi at the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s, which has really given White’s unheralded Brumbies an unlikely shot at Super Rugby glory.
Asked why the Wallaby-littered NSW Waratahs have failed dismally this season, White answered the question like this: “There’s a reason why the Green Bay Packers win, there’s a reason why Christchurch produces rugby teams and a reason why the Brumbies produce rugby teams and a reason why Pretoria produces rugby teams and win competitions,” White said after his team’s 19-15 win over NSW on Saturday night, breaking a 10-year hoodoo in Sydney.
“And if you read between the lines there’s probably a reason why (big cities like) Auckland and Sydney don’t.”
Green Bay, Wisconsin is the definition of a small-town team in American sports – and they’ve won a record 13 NFL championships.
The Canberra-based Brumbies, without the playing resources and supporter bases of NSW and Queensland, are shooting for a third Super Rugby title, which would give them the second best record in the history of the competition behind Christchurch’s Crusaders.
The Brumbies can only miss the finals if they fail to get a point out of their clash with the lowly Aucklanders, and if defending premiers Queensland score four tries in defeating the Waratahs.
After finishing third last in 2011, White says the key to the ACT’s resurgence was to home in on the tight-knit atmosphere which had been the Brumbies’ secret weapon in the past.
“We just went back to the things that worked for the Brumbies,” said the former Springboks World Cup winning coach.
“As an outsider when I was living in South Africa, the one thing we all envied was how close the Brumbies were. The legend stories that they lived together in Kingston, they eat together in the same coffee shop.
“Now we don’t eat at Kingston, we eat in our own clubhouse but the reality is … we live together, we literally get to work at seven in the morning, we leave at six in the evening.
“It’s a long day for everybody … but at any successful team, if you’re talking rugby at breakfast and you’re talking rugby at lunch and working out plays, then you get a reward.”