Super Rugby made its return to Australian shores on Friday night, with two matches having been played on opposite coasts.
The first round of the new Super Rugby AU season saw the New South Wales Waratahs travel north to face their rivals in the Reds at Suncorp Stadium, while the reigning champions Brumbies travelled west to face the Force.
In the first match of the night, the Waratahs struck first and early through captain Jake Gordon, but then, it was all one-way traffic.
The Reds piled on 41 unanswered points, as they secured a dominant win to open the new season.
In the second match, the Brumbies controlled the contest, but the Force stayed in the fight for most of the 80 minutes.
But three tries to one ultimately was the telling stat of the night, with the Brumbies getting their title defence off to a promising start. However, a Tomas Cubelli try in the 76th minute prevented the reigning champions from leaving with all five points.
After each round of Super Rugby AU this year, RugbyPass will list our top five players of the round. The top three players will then be given points of either three, two or one, to be added to an MVP watch list throughout the season.
Unsurprisingly, the Reds dominated this week and that’s been reflected in the rankings. But, here are the five of the best players from round one.
Fraser McReight (Reds) – 3 points
For me, Fraser McReight was the best player from the opening round.
The 2019 Junior Wallabies captain was everywhere against the Waratahs, and his impact reflected on the scoreboard.
Alex Mafi scored the Reds second try of the night, and McReight was involved in the leadup. He threw a clever offload to Harry Wilson which caught the Tahs on the backfoot, ultimately setting the platform for the try.
But what impressed me the most was the work he did before Filipo Daugunu’s first try of the night. The 22-year-old, whose birthday was on Friday as well, was running in support of Seru Uru, before the second-rower was taken to ground.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 22, 2021
But McReight didn’t stop running.
He got back into position before running in support of Hunter Paisami, eventually proving to be the link between the rampaging centre and the try-scoring winger.
Overall the flanker had an elite 14 carries for 54 run metres, making one line break and beating five defenders. Add 11 tackles to that and his work at the breakdown, and you’ve got yourself the player of the round.
Throughout his breakout Super Rugby campaign last year, his work rate was one of the strongest parts of his game. But just one match in, it seems like it’s gone up another gear in 2021.
James O’Connor (Reds) – 2 points
The interim Reds captain was once again a standout on Friday night, backing up an impressive domestic season last year.
The Queensland side have plenty of talent from 1-15, but O’Connor proved to be the perfect link between the forwards and the backs again. His awareness for the game and leadership is really impressive in itself.
With the Reds behind by seven, O’Connor stepped up, going short side around halfway as he looked to create something from nothing. Running in support, this led to Jock Campbell’s opening try – albeit with a very flat pass at the end.
On the 30 minute mark, he nearly had his second try assist of the night, with a cross-field kick to an unmarked Daugunu on the left-hand side. Even though the kick had a bit too much on it, O’Connor’s awareness for the game is, like I said, very impressive.
After a relatively one-sided contest, the 30-year-old got his second try assist just after the full-time siren, sending Ilaisa Droasese over for a try with a brilliant cut-out pass.
We saw the best of O’Connor on Friday night, and if he can continue to perform as he has over the last 12 months for the Reds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Queenslanders return to another Super Rugby AU final later this year.
Filipo Daugunu (Reds) – 1 point
Rounding off our top three players from round one is another Reds player in Filipo Daugunu.
After topping the Super Rugby AU try-scoring charts last season, the 25-year-old may be the favourite to do so again in 2021 after a scintillating start to the new campaign.
The winger crossed for two tries, and ran for an incredible 99 run metres. He also made three-line breaks, and beat six defenders.
His first try of the night was a relatively easy score by his standards. Seru Uru, Hunter Paisami and Fraser McReight did most of the work in the leadup, before Daugunu ran 35 metres untouched.
But what’s most impressive about his game is how dangerous he always looks with the ball in hand.
Early in the second-half, Daugunu leaped to collect a long pass from McDermott, while bumping off his opposite James Ramm while still in the air. He then ran deep into his attacking 22, looking very lethal and proved to be a headache for the Tahs’ defence.
With the Reds up by 20 points with 10 minutes to play, Daugunu well and truly put the game to bed with his second try of the night. Moses Sorovi gave a short ball to the winger, who ran through the heart of the Tahs’ defence to cross under the sticks.
Tries are ultimately the most important stat on a rugby field, so Daugunu couldn’t not make the top three this week.
Carlo Tizzano (Waratahs)
The loss of Michael Hooper for this year was always going to be a tough void for the Waratahs to fill, but they may have just found themselves a long-term successor in Carlo Tizzano.
Sporting a buzz cut, the 21-year-old was impressive in a losing side, who were very much outplayed at Suncorp Stadium.
Tizzano’s work rate saw his standout when others struggled to make an impact. Five minutes into the match, he caught my eye for looking really hungry in defence.
With the Reds mounting an attack off a driving maul inside their attacking 22, Tizzano made a good read to stop Daugunu in his tracks – even managing to push him back five metres or so.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 21, 2021
But then he was back up on his feet, contesting at the next breakdown, before being caught offside trying to tackle Angus Blyth in the next phase.
Again, later in the 20th minute, same thing; he was involved in a breakdown, then he got into position, before running the ball, all in the space of three phases.
Overall, the flanker made 25 tackles and only missed a further two. In attack, he ran for 44 metres and beat two defenders.
An exceptional effort from an up-and-coming talent.
Noah Lolesio (Brumbies)
It goes without saying that Lolesio was a breakout player in 2020. He only played a few Super Rugby AU games due to injury, but after leading the Brumbies to a title in the grand final, he selected for the Wallabies.
There’s no doubt that there’s significantly more pressure on him this year, but so far, he’s been all class.
Running off a Nic White short ball, the 21-year-old scored the defending champions’ first try of the new season. Later in the match, he also had a try assist.
He also showcased his strong defence as well late in the contest, stopping Ireland legend Rob Kearney from driving his way to the try line.
100 percent off the boot as well – there’s plenty to like about Noah Lolesio.
2021 RugbyPass’ Super Rugby AU MVP watch
Fraser McReight – 3 points
James O’Connor – 2 points
Filipo Daugunu – 1 point
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