Brumbies look to class of ’04 for inspiration

They pulled on the retro ”heavy, cotton jerseys of a playing strip revolution” to relive their championship memories and those last links to the Brumbies’ golden era are determined to deliver success to a new generation.

Brumbies George Smith and Clyde Rathbone will play against the Cheetahs at Canberra Stadium on Sunday in the club’s first Super Rugby finals appearance since 2004. They’re the only guys still playing from from the team that won the title nine years ago.

Rathbone will be included in the Brumbies’ starting team, capping off a remarkable comeback to rugby after chronic injuries forced him to retire in 2009. The shock call-up on to the wing in one of the club’s most important games in a decade comes just 18 months after 31-year-old Rathbone went public with his battle against depression.

Smith is back in the capital for a farewell season following stints in France and Japan and the finals clash will likely be his last game at Canberra Stadium.

”If we were wearing these [2004] jerseys now, they’d weigh an extra three kilograms if it rained. Now they’re all skin tight and light,” Rathbone said after pulling on the 2004 jersey. ”It reiterated how old George and I are. It brought back memories of how awesome that season was.

”But this week isn’t about reminiscing about 2004. It’s about beating the Cheetahs. It’s going to be amazing on Sunday, I could see how excited George was, even after everything he’s done.”

Almost 12,000 tickets have been sold as coach Jake White and his team attempt to stay alive in the championship race. If the Brumbies win, they will fly to South Africa on Monday to play against the Bulls in the second week of the finals.

The players ramped up the hype when they hosted a barbecue in Canberra on Thursday and hundreds of fans turned up for autographs and ticket giveaways. The excitement is giving Rathbone and Smith a sense of deja vu.

As rising stars in 2004, the duo were part of a team of champions, including Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Owen Finegan, Joe Roff and Stirling Mortlock. Rathbone, then 22, was in his second season in Canberra.

The Brumbies had made the finals every year from 2000-05, including titles in 2001 and 2004.

No one thought beating the Canterbury Crusaders in an absorbing 47-38 grand final in 2004 would be the last time the Brumbies would see play-off action until almost a decade later.

”There are similarities and differences now. Back then finals were probably valued a bit higher because there were less chances to see the Brumbies,” Rathbone said.

”I didn’t appreciate how rare it was. I was injured in ’03 and we won the comp in ’04. When you’re young you just think winning is just what the Brumbies do.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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