Five things: Aussie sides finally discover what it takes to compete against Kiwis, rookie outshines World Cup Wallaby


At long last Australia’s Super Rugby sides brought some semblance of what’s required to win big games of footy. Yet, it still wasn’t enough in most cases.

Indeed, Australia only had one winner across the Anzac weekend of trans-Tasman rugby, with the Brumbies keeping their strong record over the Hurricanes by sealing a memorable 27-19 win in Canberra.

That’s a strong reminder of the challenges ahead for Australian rugby.

Nonetheless, the Reds and Waratahs, albeit only for one half, produced the type of rugby that is needed to progress deep into the competition.

Despite both sides missing several stars, the physicality the Reds and Waratahs was a massive step up from what we have seen.

The Reds lost another at the death against a New Zealand side. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

The Reds fronted for 70 minutes before letting themselves down, while the Waratahs produced their best 20 minutes of rugby this year against the Chiefs.

They were proactive in the way they attacked – Joey Walton saw space early and found Mark Nawaqanitawase – and their forwards picked up where they left off against the Crusaders.

In the end, the Waratahs’ defence let them down.

Spacing and numbering up let them down in the second half, with the Waratahs’ midfield too narrow when Emoni Nawara scored.

Soon after in the 54th minute, the Waratahs put five players on the blindside despite only two Chiefs on that side of the ruck. It came as no surprise that the visitors then shifted the ball to the open side and found space. It was a costly six minutes.

The Reds, too, will be kicking themselves for tossing up possession. It stretched their defence and ultimately came back to bite them.

By comparison, the Brumbies didn’t concede a point from the 47th minute as their defence held firm.

That’s where they won the match.


The debate in recent times is whether Tom Wright or Andrew Kellaway should start for the Wallabies in the No.15 jersey, but Joe Schmidt could do worse than play both in the starting side.

Kellaway was one of a few players who left Christchurch with his stocks still in place.

The fullback, who has found himself on the wing at times this season, just continues to make the right decisions. That’s no shock, but it’s an underappreciated factor.

His main rival for the No.15 jersey can’t always say the same thing, but it is a factor that’s improving in the Brumbies fullback’s game.

Wright was one of the Brumbies’ best yet again against the Hurricanes and his ability to create and put teammates in space is unique in Australia.

Tom Wright’s impressive season continued against the Hurricanes. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

His early long-racking kick saw the Brumbies win the territory battle, which allowed the home side to attack the Hurricanes from the outset.

Wright’s quick hands to free up Rob Valetini ahead of Ollie Sapsford’s try in the 19th minute was quality.

Later, in the 52nd minute, he put the ball on the toe behind the defence and almost put Sapsford away for his second, with the winger knocking the ball on in goal.

Five minutes later, with the Hurricanes sensing the chance to run over the Brumbies, he took the quick throw to himself, ran back to the defensive line and found space. It was a match turning moment, but he also sized up the situation, knowing he had support if he was tackled and picked out a hooker.

The knock on Wright has always been his decision-making, but with Kellaway a strong communicator and a fine winger in his own right, could Schmidt play both in the back three?

It could give the Wallabies their own Willie le Roux-esque fullback.


Suli Vunivalu was not just a surprise selection in Eddie Jones’ World Cup squad but a remarkable inclusion ahead of Kellaway on the bench for the opening two fixtures of the tournament.

Yet in 80 minutes, 20-year-old Tim Ryan showed more in one match – a run-on debut of all things – than Vunialu has throughout his rugby career.

Although Vunivalu has shown glimpses of what he’s capable of, it’s nothing on the instinctual performance Ryan delivered against Vern Cotter’s Blues.

Even before jetting off down the left-hand touchline to score his opening two tries, Ryan’s audacious chip-and-chase close to his line was extraordinary for a player so fresh in his career.

It might not have been a highlight to rival Billy Slater’s try in State of Origin at the same venue two decades earlier in front of a packed house, but it was arguably more daring given it was near his line and against a formidable Blues side.

What. Just. Happened?!?! ????????#SuperRugbyPacific #REDvBLU

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) April 27, 2024

Ryan’s third try and ability to create something out of very little showcased his explosive speed.

Sterner tests lay ahead. His eye-catching performance means opponents will be on alert for his desire to run the ball.

But this was one of the most memorable starting debuts in Super Rugby history.


Rebels duo Matt Gibbon and Sam Talakai won’t be the only pair that is shown up by Fletcher Newell and George Bower at scrum time this year.

The pair was smashed at the scrum, leading to Kevin Foote replacing the entire front-row, including Alex Mafi, just after the half-hour mark against the Crusaders.

Quickly, the Rebels managed to slow the Crusaders’ progress after Jordan Uelese and Taniela Tupou entered the fray.

Yet, missing from the pack was 125kg lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.

It’s often forgotten how important a strong scrummaging lock is behind a prop and Salakaia-Loto’s absence proved telling.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto’s absence was felt from the Rebels pack. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

It wasn’t just there either, with the Rebels’ lineout crumbling without the second-rower.

Salakaia-Loto missed the clash after sustaining a foot injury at the end of the Rebels’ win over the Highlanders earlier in the month. It’s expected he’ll miss the rest of the regular season for the Rebels.

That’s a huge blow to their finals ambitions, with the Rebels still in need of picking up a couple of points along the way to ensure their qualification.

Schmidt will also be keeping a close eye on the lock, conscious of his heavy frame in a land where second-rowers are rare commodities.


Who wears the No.10 jersey for the Wallabies remains the most intriguing selection ahead of Schmidt’s first squad selection.

At present, none of the candidates are the complete packages.

Consistency remains one of the biggest concerns.

Last week Noah Lolesio struggled against a well-beaten pack, but the 24-year-old stood up against the Hurricanes. It was a timely response.

Carter Gordon’s kicking game isn’t yet sound enough for Test rugby.

Noah Lolesio had a successful outing against the Hurricanes in Canberra on Sunday. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

Questions remains whether Ben Donaldson is a fly-half or fullback after another patchy performance against the Highlanders, with the Force No.10 struggling to command himself at Super Rugby.

Up in Queensland, Tom Lynagh is a player on the rise but still looks a year or two away when the Wallabies need to win now. While in NSW, Tane Edmed needs to win more matches for the Waratahs.

With the Rebels to host the Blues, the Reds to travel to Christchurch and Force to meet the Chiefs in Waikato, Schmidt will be watching all three playmakers closely.

Christy Doran’s Australian Super Rugby team of the week

Harry Johnson-Holmes, Julian Heaven, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Darcy Swain, Ryan Smith, Rob Valetini, Liam Wright, Charlie Cale, Ryan Lonergan, Noah Lolesio, Tim Ryan, Tamati Tua, Hunter Paisami, Ollie Sapsford, Tom Wright

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