The Super Rugby AU ladder is starting to take shape with just two rounds to play, after the Reds and Brumbies both secured comprehensive victories in round eight.
After surviving a scare in round three against the Force, the Reds travelled down the M1 to face them again on the Gold Coast.
The match pitted the then two worst defensive sides against each other, but it was the Force’s defensive woes which continued. The Force ended up conceding eight tries in the record 57-5 loss.
In the other match, the Waratahs visited Canberra where a win for the visitors would’ve blown the competition wide open.
After only one-point separated the sides at the break, a four tries to nil performance in the second half saw the Brumbies run away with the match, securing a bonus point 38-11 victory.
Plenty of players stood out this week, but here’s just five of the best from round eight.
James O’Connor (Reds)
O’Connor has flown under the radar a bit so far in Super Rugby AU, but has well and truly reminded everyone of what he’s capable of after another classy performance on Friday night. Coming into round eight, the 30-year-old led the competition in try assists, line break assists and offloads, and added to his tally against the Force.
In what was probably one of the more complete individual performances of the competition so far. O’Connor set up Filipo Daugunu for two tries with brilliant playmaking and skill, and ran in untouched late as well.
But arguably his highlight of the match came 15 minutes into the second half, where O’Connor played provider once again to send Fraser McReight over for a try. The flyhalf took the ball into contact before getting an arm free, and handing the ball off to the flanker in a play which simply has to be seen to be believed.
O’Connor also ran the ball with confidence all night, taking the line on plenty of times with 16 carries. He also beat four defenders and had two clean breaks through the Force’s defensive line; finishing with a 22-point haul.
The Australian flyhalf debate has largely centered around Matt To’omua, Will Harrison and Noah Lolesio so far in 2020, but O’Connor is firming as Dave Rennie’s best option.
Pete Samu (Brumbies)
With the Brumbies and Waratahs separated by just one-point at the break, either team needed their big names to step up in the early stages of the second term as they looked to gain control. Enter Pete Samu.
The number eight crossed for his first of two tries in the 46th minute, showing pure pace and strength to back himself to the line. A small goosestep allowed the 28-year-old to beat the covering defence of Alex Newsome, and cross for a game changing try.
He capped off a great night with another stunning piece of individual brilliance late, scoring from what seemed to be an impossible position.
With four Waratahs players around him, Samu managed to dance with the sideline, his feet millimetres from the chalk on more than one occasion, but he still managed to dot the ball down.
Samu also applied plenty of pressure around the field of play, standing strong at the breakdown and proving effective at the set piece.
The Wallabies really are blessed with backrow talent it seems.
Taniela Tupou (Reds)
Tupou continued his elite Super Rugby AU campaign with another strong showing against the Force.
He was once again a handful for the opposition, nearly scoring not once but twice during the first half. Tupou thought he’d crossed for the opener early, but his try was ruled out by the TMO.
Unfortunately for the prop though, his second missed opportunity might’ve been the blunder of the season. Just before half-time, the prop looked all but certain to score but dropped the ball just short of the line without too much pressure.
But let’s not discredit the work it took to get to that position; he ran a great line to burst through the Force defence, running straight through Ollie Atkins and Jack McGregor with sheer pace, athleticism and power.
As well as his brutal running style, the 24-year-old also showed off his unique skillset and offloading ability.
In the 67th minute, he got a brilliant offload off to Jock Campbell that almost created something out of nothing. He drew in four defenders on a five-metre dash, but for someone who’s just shy of 130 kilograms, his footwork was incredibly impressive.
Tate McDermott (Reds)
After a top five worthy performance in round seven, McDermott was once again a standout with his showing last weekend.
The 21-year-old provided consistently quick ball for his side and helped both control and maintain the fast tempo that they wanted to play at.
Since he became a Reds regular, his awareness and threat with the ball around the ruck has always set him apart. Friday night was no different, seeing him cross over for his first with a moment of genius.
With no Force players covering the short side, McDermott took his chance, running 15 metres with only Brad Lacey to beat, who he did with relative ease.
But his second four minutes later might just end up being the try of the season.
From 40 metres out, the scrumhalf opted for a quick tap, beating four defenders on a sublime run to the try line. With Brynard Stander covering, a left foot step saw McDermott cross close to the sticks, untouched except for during the dive.
He came close to a hat-trick soon after too, but lost control of the ball in the act of scoring.
Tom Wright (Brumbies)
There were two players, both wingers, who could’ve both justifiably have made this list in the place of the other, but it’s Brumbies speedster Wright who makes it for round eight.
While Filipo Daugunu was incredible with two tries for the Reds, Wright made an impact with every touch against the Waratahs, and constantly looked dangerous and a chance of scoring.
After looking threatening throughout the first forty, the scored his first try of the night just after half-time. After receiving a sublime pass from Nic White five metres out, the 23-year-old reached out for a pivotal score.
Five minutes later, he showed pure pace to beat Jack Maddocks on the outside and score in the corner untouched.
It was the one-two punch the home side needed.
Named in Dave Rennie’s PONI list, there’s a gold jersey waiting for the winger if he can continue to make an impact throughout the business end of the Super AU season.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now