Super Rugby R2: Noah Lolesio shines but dwindling crowds a concern

Four unbeaten teams remain in Super Rugby after the opening two weeks of play as the Brumbies, Chiefs, Stormers and Sharks all backed up their Round 1 victories over the weekend.

Meanwhile, there were bounce-back wins for the Blues and Hurricanes.

But things aren't so rosy in the Australian conference with the Rebels, Waratahs and Reds all still to get off the mark.


Cool, calm and collected. They're the three qualities every coach is desperate to find in a No. 10, and Brumbies' boss Dan McKellar has found just that in 20-year-old Noah Lolesio.

Benefiting from his side's home start to the season, and a forward pack moving in the right direction, Lolesio has so far slotted into the playmaking hotseat with aplomb. He was impressive in his Super debut against the Reds -- who look the closest to an Australian conference rival for the Brumbies in 2020 -- in Round 1 and took his game to another level against the Rebels on Friday night.

Quick-thinking and at times audacious, Lolesio showed he has skills both with ball in hand and with his foot; the No. 10 producing a neat flick pass to Tom Banks for a try in the 12th minute before he then dropped in a delightful grubber for Solomone Kata to score his first Super Rugby try. After a solid night in defence, Lolesio showed he was the full package when he slotted a drop goal in the 66th minute to continue applying the scoreboard pressure on a Rebels side that was threatening a comeback. McKellar was rightfully impressed with his young playmaker.

"As I've said many times, he's the sort of kid that just doesn't get flustered. Look at the talent that he's showed there. For a guy in his second game, to be confident and comfortable to throw that [flick] pass, it says a lot about where Noah's at as a kid and as a footballer."

Lolesio will have certainly caught Wallabies coach Dave Rennie's attention, alongside fellow Super debutant Kata, who busted the line for his own score but also palmed off Reece Hodge to set up flanker Tom Cusack to run in untouched.

Kata's work as a finisher and his ability to manipulate the defence and create opportunities for his teammates will have several Wallabies incumbents, including Hodge, taking notice as he continues to find his feet in his return to the sport from the NRL.

With the Brumbies taking on the Highlanders this week, again in Canberra, Lolesio and Kata now have the opportunity to test themselves against New Zealand opposition. We should have a better idea of just where they sit after that match, but Lolesio in particular, may just be what Australian rugby had been hoping for.


The draw was always going to present the Sharks with an excellent opportunity to take an early stranglehold on the South African conference, providing of course that they hit the ground running in New Zealand.

And they did exactly that in powering out to a 27-3 halftime lead over the Highlanders in Dunedin, before going on to defeat the southerners who looked to be carrying just a little rust after having the Round 1 bye.

Crucially for the Sharks, they looked to have found a new attacking edge; something they have lacked for the last few Super Rugby seasons.

Three first-half tries, including a double from Springboks winger Makazole Mapimpi, set up the Sharks' eventual 42-20 victory, while the visitors also stung the Highlanders from turnover ball; Aaron Mauger's side handing over possession on no less than 20 occasions.

The Sharks came up one try short of a bonus point, but no coach would be disappointed with an unbeaten start to the year, particularly when heading off on tour as early as Round 2. With games against the Hurricanes, Rebels and Reds to come, two further wins should be the target for the Sharks over the next three weeks.

They can then return home full of confidence, content in the knowledge that their only remaining game outside of South Africa is a trip to face the Jaguares in Round 15.


The Sharks have company at the top of the South African conference after the Stormers managed to keep a clean sheet for the second straight week.

After the first two rounds of Super Rugby, the Stormers' for and against reads 40-0 while they are tackling at an impressing 85 percent success rate.

The weekend's 13-0 win over the Bulls was far more of a grind than their Round 1 shutout of the Hurricanes, the Stormers crossing for tries in the 37th and 50th minutes in a match where they were otherwise dominated in terms of territory and possession, particularly during the second half.

A first away game, across the country in Johannesburg awaits, in Round 3, but if the Stormers bring the same defensive resilience they have shown in the opening two weeks then there is no reason why their unbeaten start to 2020 can't continue.


It's far too early to suggest the Blues may have at last turned a corner, but there was still a lot to like in their 32-12 victory over the Waratahs in Newcastle.

The five-tries-to-two triumph secured a vital bonus point, but it was the noticeable improvement in their defensive line speed that really stood out and repeatedly trapped NSW ball-runners behind the gainline.

There were, at times, errors in their tackling technique - No.8 Hoskins Sotutu seeing yellow for a high tackle on Karmichael Hunt after centre TJ Faiane had been lucky to escape the same sanction during the first half - but the Blues otherwise showed few signs of cracking and the two tries they did concede came after a concerted Waratahs' build-up.

And then there was the visitors' scrum, an eight-man shove spearheaded by All Blacks prop Karl Tu'inukuafe, that completely dominated the Waratahs forward pack throughout the 80 minutes.

The Blues' best scrum effort of the evening came early in the second half after they had landed a brilliant double-strike within four minutes of the resumption.

Having already been dominated by the Blues at the set-piece on multiple occasions, NSW skipper Rob Simmons curiously called for a scrum after his side had been awarded a penalty right under the Blues' sticks.

It was merely an invitation for the Blues to hand out another set-piece lesson.

"I was a bit confused as to why they took the scrum," Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said. "For us, down on our line, we seem to bar up and gain more energy so to get the result that we got there, was good."

While their lineout was a tad shaky, the Blues otherwise thoroughly deserved their 20-point triumph with veteran Blake Gibson, No. 8 Sotutu and hat-trick hero Mark Telea among those to catch the eye.

Sotutu, in particular, is a hulking sight but also a player blessed with some impressive skills which were evident in a perfect little grubber kick that Telea strolled onto for the first of his three tries.

And the Blues still have Beauden Barrett to play his first game for the franchise, too. Coach Leon MacDonald's challenge is, in the meantime, to have his side humming for Barrett's arrival; the perennial underachievers cannot simply rely on Barrett being a silver bullet.

"If we can get our ducks in a row and play some good rugby, then the pressure is on him [Barrett] to turn up and play well. So that's ideal, obviously, and we'll look forward to having him back in mid-April, but in the meantime we're fixed firmly on trying to do our job now."


Blues captain Tuipulotu can't have been the only person surprised by Simmons' decision to call for a scrum underneath the Blues' sticks.

In fact, there wouldn't have been one fan among the worrying 7,401 McDonald Jones Stadium crowd that thought it was the right call given what had transpired across the first 50 minutes of the match.

Yet Simmons stood by his call post match. The NSW skipper instead declaring his side's inconsistent scrum was reflective of a wider problem.

"No regrets, there was moments where we scrummed well and moments where we didn't,' Simmons said. "I think that's pretty reflective of our game, too, we do some really good stuff and then just turn it over or don't capitalise on the opportunity that's there.

"But in that moment, as a midfield scrum, I think that's one of the hardest [set-pieces] to defend and we've got some great attackers, so I thought that was a great call or that's how I saw it."

It was an interesting take from the Waratahs skipper, but there is merit in his comments about a lack of patience within the Waratahs' wider approach.

Coach Rob Penney added post-match that could also be down to a touch of "anxiety", an issue that could continue to be a problem for the Waratahs after the departure of so much experience at the end of last year.