Super Rugby AU grand final: How Brumbies turned Irae Simone from a Waratahs reserve into a Wallaby

Irae Simone was already a pretty good player when the Brumbies’s coach Dan McKellar asked him if he would consider leaving the Waratahs and moving to Canberra.

It was a tricky choice for Simone at the time – in 2018 – because the Waratahs were the best state team in Australia, boasting a star studded backline that included Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley.

That meant Simone’s on field appearances had been limited but the Brumbies were rebuilding and McKellar wanted him to be part of it, so he made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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Irae Simone has made a huge impression since switching to the Brumbies.Source:Getty Images

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“He just told me that he would do everything he could to help make me a better player,” Simone said.

“That’s what I wanted, more than anything else. And Dan’s done that.”

McKellar had tried unsuccessfully to sign Simone two years earlier after watching him play in the 2016 Shute Shield final.

It was the day after Christian Lealiifano had been diagnosed with leukaemia and McKellar liked what he saw in Simone so was keen to recruit him.

But he was too late. Simone had just signed a contract with the Waratahs so McKellar had to wait another two years before he finally got his man – and when he did, he realised there was some work to be done.

“He came to us as a player with enormous potential, but he probably didn’t have the attitude, he needed to make some adjustments himself,” McKellar said.

Simone’s fine form has caught the eye of Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.Source:AAP

“As coaches, we needed to surround him with confidence and belief.

“A lot of the time that’s what you need to do, put an arm around a player and say ‘mate, you’ve got this much potential, if you do these areas of the game better and make some shifts, then you’re a chance of kicking on and having a long Super Rugby career and playing the game at a higher level’.”

Rebuilding Simone’s self belief was only part of the changes McKellar wanted him to make.

When he arrived at the Brumbies, Simone weighed 110kg but has now slimmed down to 102kg, making him more agile and dangerous on the field.

The improvement in Simone’s game has been astounding and he’s been the form inside centres in Super Rugby AU this season, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The new Wallabies coach, Dave Rennie, has been in regular contact with Simone throughout the season, just offering small bits of advice, and rewarded him with a place in the national squad for the upcoming international season.

Dan McKellar has had a massive impact on the form of Irae Simone.Source:Getty Images

“I got the phone call last Sunday morning. It was around 10.15, I’ll never forget it,” Simone said.

“I couldn‘t really sleep the night before, I was so nervous. When I got the phone call and got told the news, I’m not going to lie, I got a bit teary.

“It was one of those times that you look back at all the hard work and the journey you’ve been through and see that it‘s slowly paying off.

“That’s why I came to the Brumbies so all the credit for me making the Wallabies is because of the coaches.

“They believed in me and helped me understand my body and my game and how to meet them halfway and be a better player.

“Everyday they help me to get better but they never tell me ‘you can’t do this or you can’t do that’, they always let me express myself.

Dave Rennie has called up Simone for the Wallabies squad.Source:Getty Images

“To be named in the Wallabies is something really special to me and my family and hopefully one day I can make my family proud by putting on that gold jersey.”

Before going into the Wallaby camp, Simone does have one other important engagement – Saturday’s Super Rugby AU grand final against the Reds.

The Brumbies haven’t won a title since 2004 but breaking long droughts is one of Simone’s party tricks.

In 2016, the day when he caught McKellar’s attention, he was part of the Northern Suburbs team that won the Shute Shield for the first time in 41 years.

So was Will Miller, who will start the Super Rugby AU grand final at openside flanker for the Brumbies.

Like Simone, Miller was signed by the Waratahs but struggled to get on the paddock because Michael Hooper had a mortgage on the No. 7 jersey but has lifted his game to new heights after moving to Canberra.

Will Miller and Simone have been teammates in the Shute Shield and now Super Rugby AU.Source:Getty Images

“It’s awesome to be playing in another grand final with Will. We’ve known each other for a few years now and we’ve become really close friends,” Simone said.

“The feeling now is the same as it was back then in the Shute Shield. We just want to go out there and put our best foot forward.

“That’s the mindset at the Brumbies. We train to win.”

Originally published asHow Dan the Man turned Tahs reserve into a Wallaby

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