Super Rugby AU has had its most lopsided weekend of rugby since it started in July, but it was the first and second-placed sides who ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
In a match very much affected by the rain, four first half tries including a Reece Hodge double saw the underdogs stun the competitions first-placed side at the break, leading 27-7. Coming into the second half, the damage was already done and the Rebels held on for their third straight victory, winning 30-12.
In the other match, the NSW Waratahs looked to avenge their earlier season loss to the Queensland Reds. Scrumhalf Jake Gordon scored a hat-trick inside 30-minutes in his first start in Super Rugby AU, and his side later led 45-0; the Reds were never in it.
The victories see the Rebels climb up to second, and the Waratahs jump ahead of their rivals the Reds into third on points difference. Here are just five of the standouts from round six.
Isi Naisarani (Rebels)
The Wallabies backrower only played his second match of Super Rugby AU last weekend after returning from a hamstring injury, but Naisarani was once again a standout for the Rebels.
In the rain, Naisarani helped his side gain momentum and front-foot ball with his direct and powerful running ability.
Arguably his most impressive run of the match came in the 27th minute when he picked up a loose ball off the deck before breaking tackles from Folau Fainga’a and Joe Powell. He was eventually dragged down by Darcy Swain for a 15-metre gain, but he managed to get an offload away.
Just before half-time, Naisarani came close to scoring a try of his own, but was stopped just a few centimetres short of the chalk. He showed plenty of confidence to take a quick tap and back his ability, with his side reaping the rewards with a try in the next phase.
Just as it was last week, while his effective runs are eye-catching, it’s his work ethic which is most outstanding.
The 25-year-old finished with the most carries of any player with 16 for 39 metres, and also made 10 tackles. There’s plenty of depth in the Australian backrow at the moment, but I’d be very surprising not to see Naisarani’s name back in the mix whenever the national side next take the field.
Jack Dempsey (Waratahs)
After being dropped to the bench for the opening round of the Australian competition against the Reds in Brisbane, Dempsey performed at near his best in the reverse fixture last Saturday.
Every time the backrower got his hands on the ball, he looked threatening and was able to make useful post contact metres.
In the 12th minute, the 26-year-old beat two defenders and had to be taken down by another two on a scintillating 25-metre run. Even though other runs might not have been as long, they were all effective and helped his side control the games momentum.
The Wallaby came mere millimetres of a try late in the match, but the TMO ruled that he was just short. A couple of minutes later he went close again, but was stopped a metre shy on a pick and drive.
It was his work rate that impressed the most, having an equal match high of twelve carries, and had nines passes as well. Dempsey also finished the round with the most offloads of anyone with four, which goes to show just how threating he can be when he’s on song.
Jake Gordon (Waratahs)
Few would argue with me in saying that Jake Gordon was the player of round six. The one-test Wallaby was at his best during his first start in Super Rugby AU, after returning from a hamstring injury in round four against the Rebels.
Gordon crossed for his first career hat-trick inside 30-mintues for the home side, well and truly putting the wheels in motion for what was to be a big win against their rivals. Gordon ran in untouched for his first, with the silky skills of James Ramm creating the break, before the scrumhalf ran in support of both him and Karmichael Hunt.
His second would’ve brought a smile to the faces of any scrumhalf, with a quick tap catching the Reds but particularly Brandon Paenga-Amosa off-guard to cross under the sticks from five-metres out.
Gordon’s final try of the night was by far his most impressive though. The scrumhalf ran through a hole in the Reds defence off of a lineout, before linking up and then receiving a pass back from Will Harrison, to cross over for a play he started 60-metres from the try-line.
Gordon’s kicking was also brilliant, as he helped his side control the tempo and territory at the SCG. He did kick the ball out on the full with just under half an hour to play though, but that was a minor blip in an otherwise classy performance.
Matt Philip (Rebels)
A bit of an unsung hero last weekend, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise to see Philip on this list again. The Wallabies need locks and he hasn’t been doing his chances any harm with his performances over the last few weeks.
Philips’ constant desire to get involved helped his side control last weekend’s match, with the 26-year-old having the second most carries of anyone in round six, finishing with 14 for 21 metres.
But it’s his work off the ball that speaks volumes about his effectiveness. In the seven phases leading up to Reece Hodge’s second try, Philip was involved in two breakdowns before linking the forwards and the backs with a pass, who executed the kick in behind for the five-pointer.
Hodge was one player who could’ve made this list on his own after scoring a double, as was Matt Toomua for his leadership, but the work in and around some of the darkest places on a rugby field sets the second rower apart.
Once again, he was everywhere.
Philip was also the primary option at the lineout for the Rebels, finishing with six wins and he constantly pressured the Brumbies throws as well, finishing with one steal.
Dave Rennie, are you watching?
Tom Horton (Waratahs)
The 23-year-old has been impressive for the Waratahs since making his starting debut in round three, and Horton continued his fine form on Saturday night.
The hooker was superb at throwing into the lineout, linking up with Ned Hanigan in particular to truly outshine a struggling Reds set piece.
Horton also had a few strong runs with the ball, but made more of an impact in defence with nine tackles, which was equal third for the Tahs.
The rookie crossed over for his try in the 51st minute, just before he was subbed off for a well-earned rest. He controlled the ball with patience at the back of a driving maul, to extend the lead over their rivals to 43 before the successful conversion.
He’s well and truly a Wallabies bolter if he can keep this type of form up.
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