Round three of Super Rugby AU saw arguably two of the most iconic moments in the history of the competition play out.
Up first was the Waratahs hosting the Western Force at Bankwest Stadium. Both teams went into this one in search of their first win of the season.
The Waratahs ran out to a 13-0 lead midway through the second-half, but the valiant visitors fought their way back to record a famous 20-16 victory. More impressively, they managed to hold on for the win despite going down to 14-men after replacement hooker Andrew Ready was sent off.
In the other game, two title contenders fought right until the very end, but it was the reigning champions who left with the win.
With the scores locked at 21-all, replacement scrumhalf Ryan Lonergan stepped up and converted a long-range penalty attempt to send the Canberra crowd into a frenzy – but more on that later.
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 either three, two or one, to be added to an MVP watch list throughout the season.
Here’s the top five players from round three.
Tim Anstee (Force) – 3 points
The former Australian Sevens representative had himself a game on Friday night, putting in a performance which was simply key to the Force beating the Waratahs. Anstee finished with a try assist, and also crossed for one of his own, both at crucial moments in the context of the match.
Starting with the assist, the 23-year-old received the ball about 45 metres out from the tryline, before he made something out of practically nothing.
With the Force down 13-0, Anstee ran through a gap, before beating defenders on his way into the Tahs’ 22. He then drew in the covering defence of fullback Jack Maddocks, before passing to lock Fergus Lee-Warner, who ran in for a vital score.
Then in the 54th minute, it was his turn to cross for a try.
The Force were down by three at the time, but the try handed the visitors the lead that they wouldn’t end up surrendering.
Off an attacking lineout five metres out from the tryline, Lee-Warner received the ball but popped it off to Anstee who was looping around the back. The blindside still had plenty of work to do though, charging into a tackle attempt from Lachlan Swinton, before reaching out for the line.
Anstee finished the night having run the most metres of any Force forward (52 metres), and also made 13 tackles without missing any.
Fergus Lee-Warner (Force) – 2 points
Lee-Warner arguably could’ve been named the player of the round this week, he was that good.
Not only did he cross for the try that was set up by Anstee, but he also returned the favour later on, with a try assist for his blindside flanker.
Lee-Warner was everywhere against the Tahs. His elite was really impressive, as he was hungry to get his hands on the ball – and then when he did, he showed great strength, proving hard to bring down.
He had the most carries of any player in round three with 17, running for 48 metres. He also beat three defenders, had one line break and made the most tackles of any Force player with 19, which was equal-third across the round.
The 27-year-old was one of the Force’s standouts in 2020, so it’s great to see him backing it up this year. Wallabies honours would have to be a possibility for him if he could perform at this level consistently.
Ryan Lonergan (Brumbies) – 1 point
As far as having a great game off the bench goes, Ryan Lonergan couldn’t have expected much better.
The scrumhalf was subbed on for Nic White in the 61st minute, and made a clear impact. The match was in the balance when he came on, with the Rebels up by one point at the time.
11 minutes after coming on, he helped hand his side the lead by throwing a clever inside ball to fullback Tom Banks, whose try gave the Brumbies the lead. It almost came out of nowhere, but Lonergan showed great awareness and Rugby IQ in that moment.
He so nearly could’ve played the villain on Saturday night, though, having kicked the ball out on the full with a couple of minutes to go. But the Brumbies didn’t concede.
Instead they got their hands on the ball and worked their way up to halfway, where they had the opportunity to either go for the posts or kick for touch after being awarded a penalty.
They chose the kick.
The replacement stepped up and struck the ball well from halfway on the angle, but didn’t react until the ball went over. He stood still watching the ball sail over, before throwing his hands in the air – starting a massive celebration from the Brumbies players and the Canberra crowd.
His brother Lachlan was also very good against the Rebels.
Marika Koroibete (Rebels)
Not many people would argue that Koroibete was one of the Rebels’ best against the Brumbies.
He made a big impact in the second-half especially, getting his hands on the ball and proving hard to bring down.
Arguably his best play of the night though came just after the Rebels took a 18-17 lead midway through the second-half. The winger received the kick-off, put on a spin move to beat the tackle attempt from Andy Muirhead, before making a break down the left edge.
He ran the second-most metres of any player in round two with 117. Koroibete had 15 carries, two clean line breaks, but also beat an incredible 12 defenders.
Matt Toomua (Rebels)
There were a few players who could’ve been on this list: Trevor Hosea (Rebels), Lachlan Lonergan (Brumbies) and Noah Lolesio (Brumbies), but for me Matt Toomua deserves a mention.
If the Rebels had won, he probably would’ve been named as one of the top three players of this week.
The flyhalf converted all eight of his penalty attempts, finishing the night with 24 points to his name. For the second week in a row, the Rebels failed to cross for a try, so Toomua’s kicking can’t go unrecognised.
As he always does, he also kicked well out of hand, and controlled the tempo of the attack very well.
2021 RugbyPass’ Super Rugby AU MVP watch
= 1st: Fraser McReight (Reds), Mackenzie Hansen (Brumbies) and Tim Anstee (Force) – 3 points
= 4th: James O’Connor (Reds), Alex Mafi (Reds) and Fergus Lee-Warner (Force) – 2 points
= 7th: Filipo Daugunu (Reds), Tom Banks (Brumbies) and Ryan Lonergan (Brumbies) – 1 point
Round one top 3
Fraser McReight – 3 points
James O’Connor – 2 points
Filipo Daugunu – 1 point
Round two top 3
Mackenzie Hansen – 3 points
Alex Mafi – 2 points
Tom Banks – 1 point
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