Last Saturday, at about 7.30pm EST (9.30 NZ time), Canberra rugby union icon and Brumbies forward coach, Laurie (“the Lord”) Fisher, retired from full-time coaching. His charges had just lost a gruelling semi-final (19 to 6 – where they were right in the hunt until the last few minutes) to the Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Laurie had spent 24 years on and off at the Brumbies in various roles, including head coach and forward coach.
He was born in Canberra on Anzac Day 1958, went to Daramalan College, and then played at ANU (1977 to 1979) before going to Queensland and playing for Queensland Uni. Upon his return to the ACT, he captained ANU first grade from 1985 to 1992, and led his team to victory over Canberra Royals in the 1992 grand final. He was also a member of the ACT representative side, often as reserve to his old mate and rival, Jimmy Taylor, the redoubtable current president of Royals.
Laurie showed amazing leadership skills in the 1992 grand final. A controversial refereeing decision had led to one of his props being sent off; the scores were tied at 10 all; and Royals were pressing the ANU line. He spent an anxious few minutes urging some of his players to remain on the field. Laurie succeeded by force of character, and the Royals captain (Jimmy Taylor) opted for a scrum, which Uni unexpectedly won, and then went the length of the field to score a try (by ex-Tongan five-eighth Vi Fuamu). It was spectacular stuff.
Laurie worked as the PE master at Telopea Park High before becoming a program manager at the AIS. He retired from playing after the 1992 season, and then went on to coaching.
He coached ANU firsts until leaving to join the Brumbies coaching staff in 2000. It was as ANU coach that he displayed his full potential as a coach and mentor. ANU was a young, solid but not brilliant side. Despite this, Laurie brought out the very best in his charges. He was not a ranter and raver as a coach. His comments were to the point – players listened. Uni made the semis regularly, and almost won a preliminary final against Royals in the late 1990s. I put this down to Laurie’s coaching and player management skills, skills he brought to the Brumbies.
Although Laurie never won a grand final, he played a huge role in making the Brumbies the best Australian side on a regular basis.
He and head coach Steve Larkham formed a great partnership that has served the Brumbies well. Many young players honed their skills as a result of Laurie’s coaching. They all developed and benefited as human beings from his steady and caring mentoring, just as the young AIS athletes did when he and his wife Bernadette were live-in mentors before Laurie moved to the Brumbies.
Farewell, Laurie, and thanks for the memories and all you have done for rugby and sport generally in the ACT.