Best of the best: The top five players in Super Rugby AU in round five
For the first time in over a year, the Rebels returned to play in front of their home fans, and they didn’t disappoint.
It was simply a clinical performance from the hosts against the visiting Waratahs, leading 33-0 until late in the match when the Tahs crossed for two tries.
In the other match, the Force were tough opponents for the Reds at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium, but went down 26-19. The boot of former Reds player, Jake McIntyre, kept the Force in the contest, but they couldn’t quite get over the line after being outscored five tries to one.
After each round of Super Rugby AU this year, I’ll list who I thought were the top five players of the round. The top three players will be given points of three, two and one, to be added to an MVP watch list throughout the season.
Considering that this week, another set of new players made the top three, the ‘honourable mentions’ will now also be given 0.5 points each this season – including players from the first four rounds. This is both to reward those players, and to allow for a deeper look at who has been a consistently top performer.
Here’s the top five players from round five.
Hunter Paisami (Reds) – 3 points
The Wallabies centre stood out on Saturday night, with his impact helping the Reds claim a crucial win which saw them move up to first on the ladder. Paisami scored a double, but generally he was impressive.
After conceding their first points of the night through a McIntyre penalty, the Reds managed to hit back soon after through Paisami’s first try.
The Reds went wide in their second phase off a lineout, with the centre playing a part in Jock Campbell’s impressive break down the right edge. In the next phase, Paisami came charging in, and never seemed like he was going to be stopped once he got his hands on the ball.
But while that was a great example of his pace, strength, and bravery, his second try was arguably more impressive. The Reds were down 14-16 at this stage, but Paisami helped give his side the lead that they wouldn’t give up again.
This try was a textbook example of why you should always run with the ball in two hands.
As he ran at the line, he threw a dummy pass before backing himself to run through a gap in the Force defence. He ended up running roughly 30-metres without too much trouble, on his way to the try-line.
By the time the full-time whistle had sounded he’d made six runs and 11 passes.
Matt To’omua (Rebels) – 2 points
Even though To’omua was only on the field for 51 minutes against the Waratahs, the impact that he did have on the match was simply crucial.
Let’s start with the highlight play that has without a doubt caught plenty of fans’ eyes, that being of course his try of the seasons contender.
From nothing really, To’omua got the ball from scrumhalf Joe Powell at the half-way line. But the passage of play that followed really does show his class.
Just like Paisami, with the ball in two hands, the flyhalf threw a show-and-go before backing himself through a hole in the Waratahs defensive line. A chip and chase, and the favourable bounce that sat up perfectly, saw him score what has to be one of the best individual tries I’ve seen.
But other that that, the captain’s leadership guided his team around the park effectively, with the Rebels playing arguably their best game this season – in front of their home crowd too.
His kicking was once again accurate, finishing the night with an 18-point haul. Also out of hand as well, his kicking was effective.
Again, he may have only played 51 minutes, but I couldn’t really fault his performance.
Richard Hardwick (Rebels) – 1 point
Hardwick’s work rate and impact around the breakdown was outstanding in round five, and I’m sure most would agree that he deserves to be in the conversation for being one of the best players in the round.
The 26-year-old showcased his skill at the breakdown against the Tahs, with his side winning some penalties on the back of his work in that area.
The Rebels so nearly benefited from one of those efforts early-on, with Hardwick tackling Waratahs fullback Nawaqanitawase before releasing, and then attempting a steal. From there, the Rebels had an attacking lineout five-metres out, but after getting to the line, were ruled to have been held up.
Another effort in the 45th minute saw him make a tackle, bounce back him onto his feet to make another, before releasing and getting over the ball.
Defensively as well, he worked hard to get involved, making 13 but missing four.
Fraser McReight (Reds)
The work rate of the Wallaby was once again elite, seemingly involved in a lot of the play as result.
Take his involvement in a passage of play in the 58th minute as an example, which so nearly led to a great team try.
Jordan Petaia broke through the Force line around halfway and from then, you could see McReight putting in the work – making an effort to be there in support. Once he did get the ball, McReight was tackled by Byron Ralston.
McReight did manage to pop the ball up to Bryce Hegarty, but the replacement dropped the ball with the line in sight.
McReight did also have a try ruled out early in the 47th minute.
To sum it up though, he made the equal-most tackles of any player in the round with 18, and he didn’t miss any. He also had five carries for 25 metres, and made seven passes.
Tate McDermott (Reds)
McDermott played what was potentially his best game of the 2021 season so far, scoring a try and assisting two more in the win over the Force. He also managed to beat five defenders on the night.
The scrumhalf, who was very impressive last season, caught my eye just 90 minutes into the match with a run he made from a scrum.
For the third time in this article, it was another example of a player running with the ball in two hands (after initially running with it tucked under his arm), and it so nearly paid off. Instead, the ball was knocked on by the Force, as McDermott attempted to send Jordan Petaia through a gap with a pass.
Soon after though, McDermott made an impact on the scoreboard by crossing for the first try of the match. Off another scrum, Harry Wilson popped the ball to the scrumhalf six metres out from the line, before McDermott used his pace and agility to fight his way to the line.
2021 Finn Morton’s Super Rugby AU MVP watch
6th :Fergus Lee-Warner (Force) – 2.5 points
= 7th: James O’Connor (Reds), Alex Mafi (Reds) and Pete Samu (Brumbies) – 2 points
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