ACT Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has praised Tevita Kuridrani for embracing his first pre-season in six years, adamant the forgotten Wallaby can be a reinvigorated threat next season.
McKellar also believes his star players can avoid contract uncertainty distractions as several weigh up their future beyond the end of the World Cup in Japan.
The Brumbies finished a five-week pre-season training block on Friday and are already bracing for a disrupted Super Rugby preparation when nominated Wallabies go into a national team camp in January.
Kuridrani was an unexpected but welcome addition to the first chunk of Brumbies training after he was left out of the Wallabies squad to tour Europe in November.
But McKellar says the 58-Test outside centre battering ram has used his time to add more strengths to his game as he attempts to force his way back into World Cup calculations.
“Tevita is in career-best shape, from my perspective,” McKellar said. “He missed out on the spring tour, but in the end it was a blessing for him.
“We all understand it took him a while to adapt to how we wanted to play last season, but when he did he was great and he’s in prime condition to have a big 2019.
“The big change we made for him was staying in the moment. His footwork, his speed and agility … that will make him a handful for any defensive line instead of just being that direct battering ram.”
The Brumbies will welcome back Christian Lealiifano, Sam Carter, Henry Speight, David Pocock and Scott Sio to pre-season training in early January.
Pocock, Sio, Allan Alaalatoa and Rory Arnold are expected to be part of a 10-day Wallabies camp, which will limit their preparation for the trial matches on January 26 and February 7.
he bulk of those players are also yet to decide whether they will stay in Australian rugby after the World Cup.
Lealiifano has spent the off-season in Japan, Speight has been in Ireland and Carter had long-service leave at the end of December.
The contract scenario is also complicated by McKellar’s situation. His contract expires at the end of 2019, his second year as a Super Rugby coach, but the Brumbies board will likely make a decision on his future midway through the campaign.
“It would be pretty selfish on my part if I was putting individual pressure on to the playing group [about contracts],” McKellar said.
“As a team, if we get our preparation and process right, the outcomes will look after themselves. If we’re going about our business with the right attitude and application … my time with the Brumbies will ideally extend.”
Alaalatoa has re-signed with the Brumbies and Wallabies until at least the end of 2023, but Arnold will leave Canberra at the end of next year after signing a deal with French club Toulouse.
“I had multiple catch ups with Rory. It’s sad he’s leaving, he came to the Brumbies and he hadn’t played a lot of rugby to be honest,” McKellar said.
“We gave him a crack and to his credit, he took it. His growth as a footballer has been enormous and as a person as well. He’s matured into a quality bloke and it’s sad to see him leave, but you understand.”
Pocock will likely delay a decision on his playing future, although he has already committed to a season in Japan after the World Cup.
The Brumbies will also ramp up negotiations with Tom Banks, Kuridrani and Sio in early January in the hope of securing a core group of players.
(Source:Sydney Morning Herald)