ACT Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham will juggle pre-season preparations with contract talks, declaring player negotiations won’t be a distraction in his final year as the club’s leader.
The Brumbies are in a fight to re-sign more than 20 players off-contract players and rich European clubs have circled some of their stars as recruitment targets.
The Brumbies play their first pre-season trial on Saturday night and are just five weeks away from their Super Rugby season-opener against the Canterbury Crusaders.
Larkham is entering his final campaign as Brumbies coach before moving into a full-time Wallabies assistant’s role at the end of the year.
But he will continue to lead contract talks until his successor is appointed, which could be as early as the end of February.
Wallabies outside centre Tevita Kuridrani has been pursued by overseas clubs while Scott Fardy, Sam Carter and Tomas Cubelli are on a list of more than 20 players looking for new deals.
Former ARU chairman Peter McGrath voiced his concerns about the long list of off-contract Brumbies in a blog on the Griffin Legal website last week.
“We’re working with a lot of players at the moment to look at 2018, 2019 and 2020,” Larkham said.
“I don’t think the number of players off contract is relevant. What is relevant is that we’re constantly in negotiations with players, whether it’s during the season, pre-season or post season.
“It’s a never-ending cycle and you’re constantly looking at your squad for down the track. The position we’re in at the moment is no different to any other year.
“It’s not an alarm or anything like that, it’s just genuinely the way negotiations occur.”
New Brumbies chief executive Michael Thomson will begin his tenure on Monday and his first task will be finding Larkham’s replacement.
The Brumbies board has set a target of having the club’s coaching future finalised as early as the end of February with Larkham set to take a full-time Wallabies assistant coach’s role at the end of the year.
Brumbies forward coach Dan McKellar looms as one of the front-runners to fill Larkham’s shoes while it’s understood several overseas-based candidates have also applied for the position.
The Brumbies have been working with several players since the end of last year in the hope they would commit to new deals, despite not knowing who the coach will be.
“Part of my role at the moment is to make sure the long-term future of the Brumbies is successful,” Larkham said.
“I think that there are some obvious choices and then the new coach will also have a say, too. We’ll keep talking to players now and through the season.”
The Brumbies have a handful of key players already locked into new deals from 2018 and beyond, including Scott Sio, Henry Speight, Rory Arnold and Allan Alaalatoa.
Kuridrani has been targeted by some clubs in France but the powerful Fijian has become a mainstay of the Brumbies’ back line in the past five years.
The 25-year-old forced his way back into the Wallabies team at the end of last year and scored tries in four of ‘s five Tests on the spring tour of Europe.
“Tevita has a big decision to make … he usually goes under the radar but he’s the rock in our back line,” Speight said.
“When he’s firing, our back line is firing. He’s the one who puts us over the gain line every time.
“I’m sure he’ll come to the right decision for him and his family at the end of the day, but we’d love to see him hang around and stay.”
SUPER RUGBY PRE-SEASON
January 28: ACT Brumbies v n Barbarians at Viking Park, 5.30pm.
February 4: ACT Brumbies v NSW Waratahs at Mudgee.
February 11-12: Brisbane Global 10s at Suncorp Stadium.