The Super Rugby AU finals series is beginning to take shape after the Brumbies defeated the Western Force in Canberra, and the Melbourne Rebels finished with a losing bonus point against the Waratahs.
The Brumbies came into their fixture against the winless Force knowing that a victory would secure them a home final in a few weeks’ time.
The Force came to play, turning down two early shots at goal which led to the opening try of the night. But once again, they couldn’t make the most of their promising start and were played out of the game by a better team, losing 31-14.
In the other match, it was effectively a quasi-quarter final with both the Waratahs and Rebels able to lock in playoff berths depending on the result.
The Tahs led by 14 points with 20 minutes to go, but a late fightback saw the Rebels trail by just two with just under 10 minutes to play.
The game finished 38-32 to the Tahs, with the losing bonus point keeping the Rebels in control of their destiny ahead of a clash with the Force next Saturday.
While a number of players impressed last week, here were just five of the standouts from round nine.
Irae Simone (Brumbies)
Simone has played himself into national contention after being named in Dave Rennie’s most recent PONI list earlier this month.
His performance on Friday night was another classy showing, and the 25-year-old must be getting even closer to his test debut week to week.
He’s simply outstanding when he’s on song.
While Simone was impressive in attack, finishing with the second-equal most running metres of the round with 46, it was his playmaking that really impressed. His control and comfortability around the park when stepping into the first receiver role was admirable, and led the Brumbies well.
Take Tom Banks’ try just before half-time; if Simone didn’t take the ball to the line as he did and draw three Force players in, the fullback probably doesn’t score.
He had a try assist as well late in the match, with Andy Muirhead diving and getting a hand to a ball that the inside centre had kicked in behind the Force defensive line.
Simone’s defensive highlight of the match came in the 35th minute, where he chased down a Joe Powell box kick and immediately tackled USA international Marcel Brache into touch. Finishing with a round-high 19 tackles, it truly was a complete performance.
His work rate isn’t doing his representative chances any harm.
Isi Naisarani (Rebels)
In a losing side, Naisarani once again stood out for his elite work rate, which he was rewarded for with his second career double.
The 25-year-old had the second-most carries of anyone in the round, and his workload was once again effective. Every time he gets the ball, his brutal running ability sees him get over the gain line.
He also made his mark on defence, making the most tackles of anyone on Saturday night to complete 16 from 16 attempts.
After the Rebels trailed by as much as 11 points, Naisarani helped bring his team level with his first try of the night just after the break. With the Rebels forming a steady maul off a lineout, the Wallaby peeled off and couldn’t be stopped from five metres out.
Down a man late, the Rebels again needed a try to keep any hopes of a win alive. Up stepped Naisarani. The ball spat out of a ruck, allowing him to power his way over for a pivotal try.
He still has some errors and poor discipline in his game but overall, Naisarani’s impact on the match can’t be questioned.
Jack Dempsey (Waratahs)
After sitting on the bench for the first two rounds of the competition, Dempsey has really made the most of his return to the starting side.
The number eight finished the round with the most turnovers won with three, and the most carries with 17.
He caught the Rebels napping in the 22nd minute, with a pick-and-go seeing the 26-year-old cross for his second try in as many weeks.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 30, 2020
Moments later, Dempsey reminded everyone of his strength and again his rugby smarts, stopping the ball from coming out of a Rebels driving maul to win possession back for his side. Later in the match, he did it again.
Dempsey’s energy, power and general skill set has to be admired, and while he wasn’t named in the PONI list, there’s still time to force his way back into the national fold if he can keep this up.
Speaking of the Wallabies, Michael Hooper deserves an honourable mention. While I still don’t think his impact is consistently where it needs to be performance-wise, credit has to be given where it’s due.
Matt To’omua (Rebels)
Player of the round.
Even playing at inside centre, To’omua just seems to do everything right to lead the side in both attack with his playmaking, and in defence with his reliability.
When the Rebels trailed by 11 and really needed somebody to step up, the captain led from the front and scored one of the bravest tries in the competition to date. Just before half-time, he wouldn’t be stopped, running a direct line in-between Michael Hooper and Lachlan Swinton.
Also in attack, the playmaker finished with one try assist to his name, setting up Marika Koroibete down the left edge. To’omua spotted a gap in the Tahs defence and made them pay, running through and drawing fullback Maddocks into the tackle to allow his winger to head for the corner.
A head-wrecker outcome for Hooper and cohttps://t.co/vBlogdQXbS
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 29, 2020
The defensive highlight of the round also arguably goes to To’omua, who showed great poise and patience to hold Maddocks up late. He just had eyes for the ball, and managed to secure it in the tackle and hold the former Rebel up in goal.
Add a clutch penalty with three and half minutes to play, as well as a lineout reception to his name, and it’s fair to say that the 30-year-old had a night to remember.
Tom Banks (Brumbies)
Australian rugby fans have been waiting for Tom Banks to return to top form in Super Rugby AU, and he did just that in round nine.
From minute one with his first kick return, Banks’ intent was there; you could tell he was switched on. As he neared the Force defence, with the ball in two hands, he ran with the general unpredictability that has made him such a standout for years.
Banks mainly made his impact with the ball around the midfield though, with inside balls often from Bayley Kuenzle nearly catching the visitors defence out a few times. He nearly set up Andy Muirhead for a miraculous try in the 29th minute after running inside, only for the play to have been called back by the TMO.
Brumbies coach Dan McKellar has a problem any coach would want with bench players like Wallabies World Cup halfback Nic White jostling for a start.https://t.co/k7L62qB0dJ
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 29, 2020
The fullback finished with the most metres run of any player in round nine with 76.
His moment of the match came just before half-time, when he finally broke his Super Rugby AU duck with a try. Banks showed great footwork to beat Brache on the outside, and the covering defence of Jack McGregor with pace.
He’s been quiet up until this point but Tom Banks still has to be the front runner for the Wallabies 15 jumper, especially after performances like that.
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