Super Rugby AU R5 review Wallabies announce themselves in Brumbies-Reds thriller

Super Rugby AU completed a full cycle of games over the weekend as the Brumbies and Rebels claimed wins in Round 5 of the competition.

The Brumbies' last-gasp triumph, which was secured via a penalty in the 83rd minute from Mack Hansen, has moved them seven points clear at the top of the ladder.

The Rebels' Super Time victory over the Force solidified their spot in third, just one point shy of the second-placed Reds.

Read on for some of the key talking points from the weekend's action.


Saturday night's Brumbies-Reds showdown had been billed as the Super Rugby AU Grand Final preview and while they will play once more in Brisbane before that showdown might eventuate, their GIO Stadium encounter certainly had the feel of a tournament decider.

What will have pleased Wallabies coach Dave Rennie even more was that many of the players he identified in his Players of National Interest squad in February, performed at the level that Australia will require if they're going to be competitive against the All Blacks later this year.

The Reds and Brumbies will, and should, comprise the bulk of Rennie's first Wallabies squad proper.

Just how he chooses to use Jordan Petaia and Harry Wilson is of most intrigue.

The two brightest talents in Australian rugby almost singlehandedly put the Reds into a winning position after they had fallen to a 14-3 deficit at halftime. Reds coach Brad Thorn was forced to introduce Petaia a bit earlier than he probably would have like when Chris Feauai-Sautia was injured late in the first half.

Given his track record with injury, you might have expected Petaia to ease himself into the contest, yet he charged onto the ball at the first opportunity and then looked to have scored a vital try for the Reds going into the break.

However, referee Nic Berry and the TMO decided that a high tackle from Lukhan Salakai-Loto on Brumbies winger Tom Wright was worthy of a penalty and instead overruled Petaia's try and marched the Reds back into their own 22.

There was some justice in the fact Brumbies No. 10 Bayley Kuenzle struck his shot wide of the posts, but there is also more than just a passing argument that five phases of play are too many to go back, even if it is for foul play.

That could have been a particularly soul-destroying decision for the Reds, but then Petaia and Wilson went to work after the break.

Just three minutes after the resumption, with seemingly nothing on, Petaia ran at the line with just enough momentum to drop a delightful flick pass off for Wilson, who ran away to score under the posts.

Then, just three minutes later, winger Filipo Daugunu tore onto a clever inside ball from James O'Connor, the Fijian producing an offload himself to the supporting Wilson, who was brought down just short of the line, only for Angus Scott-Young to scoop the ball up and reach out and score himself.

While the end result wouldn't go their way, it was a short burst of scintillating play that again highlighted some of the brilliant young talent Rennie has to work with and was one of the key reasons why he decided to take on the Wallabies job.

Wilson's 88 metres were only better by Daugunu's 92, but given their respective positions on the paddock the Reds No. 8's return is probably worth double of what the still impressive Daugunu had put up.

What must not be forgotten amid all the excitement about some of Thorn's youngsters is how the Brumbies still managed to get away with the win and just how dominant their rolling maul is.

Dan McKellar will join the Wallabies staff at some time in the future while Laurie Fisher has long had his name mentioned when it comes to the intricacies of forward play, his work with the tight five in particular.

There is no better rolling maul in rugby than the Brumbies' with the amount of tries hooker Folau Fainga'a has scored over the past three years is a reflection of that. It is such a difficult move to defend that even replacement hooker Connal McInnerny has a hat-trick off the bench.

The key for Rennie when the first Wallabies Test rolls around will be if he can unlock the same mauling threat at international level and whether or not picking a predominantly Brumbies tight five is the best way to go about it.

Certainly back-rowers Rob Valetini and Pete Samu will also be firmly in the mix for a starting berth, the depth at No. 6 and No. 8 a nice headache to have given the lack of experience Australia suddenly finds itself in at lock.

These two teams will meet in the final round of Super Rugby AU's regular season and, probably the final a fortnight later, too. Two further games at the same intensity of Saturday night's classic has to be the expectation and knowing they will be fighting for Wallabies' starting spots, the players have no excuse not to deliver a repeat of what they produced in Canberra.


The tough thing about being a replacement is that you are expected to come on and make an instant impact on the match, to provide an injection of enthusiasm, speed or physicality that can perhaps inspire those players within your team who may be starting to struggle late in the match.

Reds back-rower and former Australia Under 20s captain Fraser McReight had certainly done that in his appearances off the bench in Super Rugby, which then earned him starts across the opening weeks of Super Rugby AU.

But back on the bench in Canberra on Saturday, the 21-year-old learnt a valuable lesson as to how things can go other way, too.

With the Reds having botched yet another lineout in the second-half, the Brumbies were given one last chance to get themselves downfield and either push for a try or string enough phases together to earn a penalty from referee Berry.

And that's exactly what happened when McReight was dubiously penalised for playing the halfback as he attempted to win his side a breakdown turnover and, ultimately, the match.

Certainly Berry's decision was debatable. McReight had actually survived the cleanout from Brumbies lock Nick Frost and had almost been pushed back onto the Brumbies side of the ball by Frost himself; replacement scrum-half Isaac Fines also did well to milk the call from Berry given the contact was minimal.

But what McReight will learn from this is that a breakdown attack deep in a match, when a penalty would give the opposition a chance to steal victory, must be a near-perfect opportunity for a turnover.

On this occasion, it certainly was not.

It goes against everything that McReight has come to know about No. 7 play, but he must learn to temper his turnover attempts deep in games, or at least recognise an attempted steal carries even greater risk than they do across the earlier 75 minutes of a match.


You have got to feel for the Force, they were so close to their first win back at the top table of Australian rugby.

Unfortunately, they now find themselves with an unwanted slice of history after they became the first team to lose in Super Point extra time.

Certainly the Rebels' looked to have learned from their earlier Super Time effort against the Reds, which amounted to nothing as both teams looked determined not to lose rather than to actually try and win the match.

On this occasion, however, the Rebels exploded from the Super Time kick-off to quickly win possession. They had no interest in setting up for the drop-goal either, as they shifted the ball from side to side and tested the Force defence.

A few surging runs put them within striking distance of the line, leaving Isi Naisarani, who was playing his first game of the tournament, to do the rest with an unstoppable pick-and-drive from close range.

The five-pointer capped an impressive return for Naisarani who simply picked up where he had left off at the World Cup and then the canceled Super Rugby season, where he had been among the most dominant back-rowers in the competition.

As mentioned earlier, the potential lack of ball-carriers at lock for the Wallabies means Rennie may need to go for size at No. 6 and No. 8, rather than explore the second fetcher combination that was a staple of Michael Cheika's Wallabies tenure with Michael Hooper and David Pocock.

The thought of Naisarani combining with Harry Wilson is certainly a tantalising prospect.