Round four of Super Rugby AU saw two tightly contested matches go right down to the wire.
The Western Force fell just short of making it two wins in a row as a valiant Rebels side held on for a three-point win at Perth’s HBF Park on Friday night.
It was a low-scoring affair, with the Rebels up 5-0 at the break.
But one try apiece in the second-half set up a grand-stand finish, with the Rebels up by three but down a man after lock Ross Haylett-Petty was sent off with 10 minutes to play.
But, despite applying plenty of pressure, the hosts couldn’t quite crack the Rebels’ line, losing 10-7.
Then, on Saturday night, the Brumbies faced the Reds in a grand final rematch at GIO Stadium in Canberra.
The Brumbies were scoring at more than a point a minute early on, going up 17-0 after just 15 minutes. Queensland did fight their way back, but the hosts were in control for a majority of the contest – that being 79 of the 80 minutes.
Just like round three, the Reds left it late, with centre Jordan Petaia crossing late, before a James O’Connor conversion handed his side the lead. They won 40-38, breaking a long winless drought in Canberra.
The Reds have shown plenty of heart over their last two games in particular, never saying die whenever the going gets tough. O’Connor scored the go-ahead conversion against in the 78th minute against the Rebels in round two.
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 four.
Marika Koroibete (Rebels) – 3 points
There’s no doubt in my mind that Marika Koroibete is the best wing in Australian rugby at the moment; that’s been the case for a while.
However, his recent form, dating back to his time in the gold jersey last year, would suggest that maybe his stature in the sport goes beyond that.
While the Six Nations has seen the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit perform well, and, of course, Caleb Clarke and Cheslin Kolbe rightly having been praised as great players in the past, Koroibete is arguably the best of the best – out of the wingers that is.
Over the past few weeks in Super Rugby AU, he’s been a standout, with simply incredible numbers to back that up.
Against the Force on Friday, he had 14 carries for 134 metres, as well as having beaten six defenders and made five line breaks. That’s backing up his performance in round three against the Brumbies where he ran for 117 metres from 15 carries, and beat 12 defenders.
In a match against the Force in round four which didn’t offer much in terms of scoring, the winger did his side a great service.
Arguably his best run of the game came basically from nothing, but it sums up his performance and how hungry he was to get involved. Off a Tomas Cubelli box kick in the 56th minute, Tom Pincus fielded the ball before laying it off to Koroibete, who ran onto the ball with serious pace.
It’s worth mentioning, though, that after three matches this year, he’s still yet to score a try. But it’s not like he’s not doing everything he can to break that streak – he’s the best winger in the world right now.
Pete Samu (Brumbies) – 2 points
The Wallabies back rower was superb on Saturday night, and was a key part of the Brumbies’ dominance in the first half in particular. Samu finished the match with a double, with both shows showing his pace, agility and power that makes him such a good player.
With the Brumbies looking threatening with ball-in-hand early on, it was Samu who crossed for the defending champions’ first of the night.
Playing with an advantage just outside of the Reds’ 22, the hosts swung the ball wide. Winger Andy Muirhead used his pace to draw in both Alex Mafi and the covering defence of Filipo Daugunu, before sending the flanker over untouched.
His second came towards the end of the half, in a mirrored situation on the other side of the field. Once again he was hogging the sideline, but took his chance when it was offered to him.
Nic White deserves a mention for his lead-up play though, holding the ball up and timing the pass perfectly. Samu did have a bit of work to do, but managed to dot the ball down just before the covering defence of Tate McDermott could get to him.
In the lead-up to his second try too, it was Samu who got the Brumbies onto the front foot. Running off a scrum inside the 22, he used his strength to charge their attack inside the five-metre line.
When Samu is on form, he’s one of the most exciting players to watch in Australian rugby.
Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies) – 1 point
Fainga’a was impressive in his return to the Brumbies match day squad this week, having not played for the defending champions since round one.
He’s been there and done it before for both club and country though, so in some ways it’s not a surprise. But still, to line-up against arguably the form hooker of Super Rugby AU in Alex Mafi and perform how he did, says a lot about the type of player he is.
Fainga’a is a proven try-scorer, and added to his tally twice again on Saturday night in trademark fashion.
The Brumbies were well on top early and that reflected on the scoreboard.
Already up 10-0 after just over 12 minutes of action, Fainga’a crossed for his first off the night from a driving maul. Initially he was bound to his forward pack, but a few meters out from the line, he peeled off and dove for the line – nobody could’ve stopped him.
While the Reds fought their way back, the Brumbies continued to maintain their ascendency at that stage of the game through more tries, including the 25-year-olds second shortly after the break.
But his core job on the field is to throw accurately into lineouts. Fainga’a did just that, hitting all eight of his targets. Both of his tries came as a result of the work that the Brumbies did at the set-piece.
Fergus Lee-Warner (Force)
Last week, I had Lee-Warner as the second-best performer from round three, and he’s backed it up this week with another exceptional performance. If the Brumbies vs Reds match hadn’t been as good as it was, he very well could’ve made the top three.
The 27-year-old stood out last week for his work rate, and that did the talking again against the Rebels. He had a team-high 13 carries, made one line break, and also made a rough-high 17 tackles.
While he’d probably still be considered a Wallabies bolter at this stage, he’s certainly starting to mount a case as to why he needs to be in Dave Rennie’s immediate plans.
Taniela Tupou (Reds)
The Reds wouldn’t have won against the Brumbies if it wasn’t for their dominant scrum across the last half an hour, and Tupou led that charge.
Pressure at scrum-time led to penalties, and these penalties led to crucial points, which got the visitors back into the contest.
He also crossed for a vital score with just under 20 minutes to play, as he used his strength to force his way over from a pick-and-drive.
2021 Finn Morton’s Super Rugby AU MVP watch
= 1st: Fraser McReight (Reds), Mackenzie Hansen (Brumbies), Tim Anstee (Force) and Marika Koroibete (Rebels) – 3 points
= 5th: James O’Connor (Reds), Alex Mafi (Reds), Fergus Lee-Warner (Force) and Pete Samu (Brumbies) – 2 points
= 9th: Filipo Daugunu (Reds), Tom Banks (Brumbies), Ryan Lonergan (Brumbies) and Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies) – 1 point
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