Brumbies coach Jake White is still tossing up whether to back Queensland for the Super Rugby title, but his gut tells him no.
It would feel too much like a kick in the guts.
As the defending champion Reds prepare for Saturday’s qualifying final against the Sharks, the Brumbies are licking their wounds after last week’s heartbreaking tumble from the playoffs race.
White’s “no-name” Brumbies, having exceeded all expectations week after week, fell when the critics least expected it by losing 30-16 to the Blues at home for their heaviest defeat of the year.
A loss by just seven or less would have cemented their place on top of the Australian conference, a spot they’d mostly held for five months.
Instead, Queensland snatched it with an epic four-try bonus-point victory over NSW.
The disappointment is still tangible for White, who believes that even though his side made giant strides, 2012 still feels steeped in failure.
“We leave a bit disappointed but, if we take a step back and really reflect, it’s not a bad effort,” he told AAP on Thursday.
“Considering where we started, considering what we had, considering what the expectations were from outside … we surprised a lot of people.
“It might not feel like we passed but we got 80 per cent (of points on offer) – that’s a distinction.
“It’s not very often you get a distinction and still feel like you failed.”
Achievements were aplenty this season with World Cup-winning coach White at the helm.
They made away with hoodoos, defeating the Hurricanes in week 13 in Wellington for the first time since 2003 and pipping the Waratahs at ANZ Stadium for the first time.
While they finished second overall on the Australian table, they won 10 matches, more than double their 2011 effort and buoyed their Wallabies representation from three to eight by season’s close.
It would have been nine if not for Christian Lealiifano’s broken ankle.
“The aura of the Brumbies is so much more evident,” White said.
“Ex-Brumbies say that it’s reminiscent of the old days and they’re very thankful for that.”
Pre-season planning is already underway, with White headed to South Africa to fill new gaps in his playing roster.
A key priority will be filling Michael Hooper’s absence at No.7, with Western Force skipper David Pocock yet to give White an answer about whether he will make the journey east to Canberra.
White is confident his squad can continue their improvement into 2013 but, for the meantime, he’ll be ruing what could have been this weekend watching the Reds, who pipped his side 13-12 in week 14 after Brumbies five-eighth Zack Holmes missed a penalty attempt in the dying moments.
“I’m really not sure if them winning back-to-backs is going to make it easier or more difficult,” said White.
“My gut feeling tells me it will probably make things feel worse for us.
“We should have beaten them in that game.”