Super Rugby Round 15: Retallick superb, Wallabies' back-three options swell

Australia's trans-Tasman win streak never got going. It finished at one.

After snapping the 40-game run at home to the Highlanders, the Waratahs missed a golden opportunity to add the Chiefs to their list of victims as they gave up an early 14-0 lead.

And the Kiwis added another victory a few hours later as the Highlanders brought on some classy replacements in Aaron Smith and Liam Squire to sink the Reds in Brisbane.

Meanwhile, the Jaguares made it six straight wins by beating the Sharks in front of a boisterous Buenos Aires crowd that grows by the week.

Read on for some of the key talking points across the three conferences.

Australian Conference

Rising stars make final case for Wallabies call-up

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has a few outside back candidates who pick themselves but should there be one, or possibly, two spots up for grabs, he and the selectors face a difficult task.

Following his superb game against the Highlanders last week, Taqele Naiyaravoro was being discussed for possible inclusion despite his departure to Northampton later this year. But after seeing the Chiefs exploit the big Fijian's lack of speed on the turn-and-chase, selectors may instead look to the future.

And it would be a wise move, too, given the performances of Jack Maddocks, Tom Banks and Izaia Perese in Round 15 of Super Rugby. With Maddocks and Perese just 21 years of age and Banks two years older at 23, all three are long-term Wallabies prospects.

Maddocks was in fine form for the Rebels on Friday night as Melbourne ran out bonus-point winners over the Sunwolves, closing the gap to just one point with Australia conference leaders NSW in the process.

Spoken as a potential Test playmaker in the years ahead, Maddocks is learning his trade on the wing for now and had already proven himself an accomplished finisher. That was reflected in his performance against the Sunwolves as he finished with 78 metres from 13 runs for two clean breaks, three beaten defenders and two tries. Maddocks also proved his worth in defence, with a key cover tackle on Sunwolves winger Hosea Saumaki.

"He's a talent and I think he's done everything he can do to put his best foot forward for [Wallabies] selection," Rebels captain Adam Coleman said post match. "I'm sure his time will come in that jersey. He's a character on and off the field and he's a great asset to our team."

While Maddocks' effort was impressive, Banks proved to be the match-winner as the Brumbies upset the Bulls in Pretoria. Playing with just 14 men for the final 18 minutes of the match, Banks produced a stunning 65-metre try as the visitors took the lead and then iced the match with an Andy Muirhead try a short while later. The Brumbies fullback finished with individual attacking stats of 10 runs for 109 metres, three clean breaks and eight beaten defenders.

Banks was thought to have been terribly close to a Wallabies call-up for last year's spring tour, having impressed in the National Rugby Championship and then with Alan Jones' Barbarians. His effort at the weekend will be hard to ignore this time around.

Meanwhile in Brisbane, Perese made a solid return from injury in the Reds' 18-15 loss to the Highlanders. Sidelined with injury for much of this season, Perese made a series of powerful runs; the pick of which came from deep within the Reds' 22 as the winger circled back on the arc and sprinted clear through the heart of the Highlanders' defence.

Cheika had already signalled his particular interest in Perese's return, and the Wallabies boss will likely have been thrilled with the winger's effort at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.

Just how many outside back places are truly up for grabs remains to be seen, particularly given Marika Koroibete's timely hat-trick against the Sunwolves and the fact that Henry Speight has been arguably the Brumbies' most consistent performer all year. Dane Haylett-Petty hasn't quite been at his best since moving to Melbourne, but he is a Cheika favourite and has already proven himself at Test level.

With Reece Hodge and Israel Folau certain to be selected, there may just be a single spot for either Maddocks, Banks or Perese to squeeze into. All will be revealed come Wednesday evening.

New Zealand Conference

Retallick thwarts Tahs, reaffirms lock status

Beauden Barrett may steer the ship and produce the jaw-dropping moments that keep the All Blacks on sporting highlight reels across the globe, but to anyone who understands the game it is Brodie Retallick on whom New Zealand rely to set the tone.

A thorn in the Wallabies' side for much of the past decade, Retallick proved the Waratahs' chief nemesis in their Super Rugby loss to the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday night.

Put simply, the Chiefs do not run out 39-28 winners without Retallick.

After the Waratahs opened up an early 14-0 lead with two sublime set-piece tries, Retallick went to work through the middle of the park. The veteran lock helped swing the momentum the hosts' way with a series of bullocking runs, before crossing beneath the crossbar for the Chiefs' opening try.

But his biggest play of the evening came in the dying stages with the Waratahs hard on the attack. Up 29-27, Retallick negated the Waratahs' last genuine try-scoring opportunity with a brilliant forced penalty, the lock staying tough over the ball despite the attention of three Waratahs' players to earn the reward from referee Glen Jackson.

In the end, Retallick led all forwards for total runs with 13 and added 10 tackles in a typically dogged defensive display.

"When the game was in the balance, and they ran his way, I said 'you shouldn't have gone that way because the big man's going to jackal it' and he did, we got a penalty and we were able to get out of that," Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said.

"That was really tight there. He's outstanding, isn't he? I'm just so blessed and lucky to have players of this calibre to be coaching."

World Rugby's Player of the Year in 2014, Retallick is well on the way, if not already there, to being spoken about in the same conversation as legendary modern-day locks Victor Matfield, John Eales, Martin Johnson and Brad Thorn. Retallick's power through contact, defensive workrate, set-piece prowess and ability to get on the ball and survive the cleanout, despite his 2.04m frame, is unrivalled in the game today.

At just 26 years of age, it is more than likely Retallick has the 2023 World Cup in France on his radar after next year's global showpiece in Japan. It may take some creative contracting, a sabbatical for example, on the part of New Zealand Rugby to manage his body and keep his mind stimulated; but it could be that, frighteningly, Retallick's best rugby is still to come.

He and Barrett are the two players All Blacks coach Steve Hansen can least do without.

South African Conference

Red-hot Jaguares capitalising on South African struggles

The Sharks, Stormers and the Bulls' playoff ambitions hang in the balance following defeats over the weekend.

The results highlighted the teams' inconsistency, and something that has been plaguing South African rugby for the last decade. Players from the Republic struggle to produce the same quality of performance on a consistent basis, as they generally mix the sublime with the daft from week to week.

The Sharks have been in good form against New Zealand opposition this year, but have failed to stamp their authority on their conference rivals and Australian teams. The Bulls have been in the same boat, and made some stupid decisions and mistakes in their shock home defeat against the Brumbies this past weekend.

As a result, the Jaguares now find themselves six points ahead of the Sharks, seven points ahead of the Stormers and are eight point in front of the Bulls in the pursuit of a wildcard berth. It's going to be tough to haul in Argentine team, who have now one six games in a row. They look like a great bet in the playoffs and could spring a surprise or two in the knockout stage.

The Bulls, Stormers and Sharks, however, have a month off to try figure out a way to get back in the playoff fight. Hopefully the make the most of it.