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Simplicity and surprise: The Brumbies' recipe for Super success

One would never downplay the loss of David Pocock, but the Brumbies have found a winning formula in the Wallabies superstar's absence so much so that he has become little more than an afterthought over the past couple of months.

Having suffered a soft tissue calf injury at a Wallabies camp way back in January, and then aggravated it through the early weeks of the competition, Pocock was last month forced to call time on his Super Rugby career in bid to be in the best possible shape for the Rugby World Cup later this year.

The Brumbies were already three wins into a six-game winning streak at the time of Pocock's Super Rugby retirement, a run they have extended to six games ahead of this weekend's quarterfinal; so Dan McKellar's side have certainly adjusted to life after "Poey."

But how exactly did they recover from the loss of Pocock and a poor start to the season that saw them drop four of their first six games?

The most dominant rolling maul in the competition has clearly helped, so too retaining the element of surprise.

"It's good, it keeps us guessing and it keeps our minds involved in the game," unheralded back-rower Tom Cusack told ESPN in referencing the changes across the loose-forward unit. "And the game plan; we have to come up with new tactics to then present a new challenge to opposing teams.

"So that keeps opposing teams guessing; they don't really know who they're going to play week in week out, and we all complement each other well. We all have our strengths and everyone understands that, so whatever make-up they [coaching staff] put together, we're able to perform."

Cusack missed last week's win over the Reds but has otherwise been involved in 14 of the Brumbies 16 games this year, plugging whatever holes McKellar has had to deal with across the back-row. That willingness to do whatever is required for the good of the team and "leadership" at training saw the Brumbies coach hand special praise to his back-row workhorse after their 35-24 victory over the Waratahs in Sydney a fortnight ago.

Admitting he was humbled by McKellar's kind words, Cusack said he had grown in confidence throughout season and was thankful to be getting so many minutes.

As for the maul that has been at the heart of the Brumbies' success, and has likely seen Folau Fainga'a's membership of the front-rowers club revoked due to his 11 regular-season tries, Cusack said its destructiveness lay in its simplicity.

"There aren't too many variations, it's just what we do with it," he said. "Everyone's on the same page which is what you need; everyone knows how to maul, how to maul well, where to maul to and everyone knows how to get the job done.

"We're coming up against a strong maul side in the Sharks: They haven't let one [driving maul try] in yet all year, so we've got a challenge there. But I think we've got good confidence in what we want to try and get out of that [the maul] and then having the variations off that keeps the opposition guessing."

As is the case with all four of the Australian teams, the Brumbies will be farewelling several other notable names at the end of the season with the post-World Cup cycle in full effect.

The desire to send skipper Christian Leali'ifano, and veteran lock pairing Rory Arnold and Sam Carter, out on a winning note is serving as a strong motivator.

"We're travelling along nicely, but we're not getting ahead of ourselves as it comes into crunch time," Cusack said. "The boys are excited for the challenge to come; we're losing a lot of players at the end of the year and the rest of the playing group feels like we owe it to them to put in a good performance and send them off well.

"Yeah, we've won six on the trot and that's not down to luck, we've put in a fair bit of work; we've worked on our combinations and worked on a few little skills throughout that period to generate good results. And through that we've come out with six from six and played really well the last couple of games, and now go into the finals in a strong position to hopefully go three more wins on the trot."

Consecutive victory No. 7 can be earned at home at GIO Stadium on Saturday night against a Sharks team who knows how to grind out victories, but doesn't offer a lot besides forward physicality and a strong set-piece. Recalled to start at openside flanker, Cusack hopes the Brumbies' will start to find holes in the Sharks' defence as the game grows older.

"As all South Africans are, they're big bodies, they're skilful and strong, and they love the physical battle," he said of the Sharks. "That's something that we've drilled into ourselves this week, that that's what they're going to bring and how we're going to combat that...hopefully by being smart about our decisions we can open the game up, being big boys as they are they can fatigue a bit.

"So hopefully with our fitness and our home grown advantage that we've been able to generate throughout the season, we'll be able to knock them off at the end."

Beyond that the semifinals and, potentially, a final, could await Cusack, before one of the hardest workers in Australian rugby swaps Super Rugby for sevens and adds his considerable experience to Australia's last chance at Olympic qualification: The Oceania regional tournament.

"It's certainly a bit of a juggling act, but that's what the excitement is about it all," Cusack said. "So I'll knock off the Super Rugby season and then have a bit of time off just to freshen up. And then I'll head up to sevens to help them qualify for the Olympics and then, post that, back to Super Rugby.

"I'm not getting too far ahead of myself but I'm pretty excited for that challenge; three weeks to go here and then back up to Sydney. And then hopefully trim down a bit; get a bit more speed, get a little bit more fitness and then, hopefully, put my stamp on the sevens team as I feel like I'm doing here."