Round five of Super Rugby AU might just be the most important yet, with all teams a chance of moving up the ladder with wins this weekend depending on the other result.
Up first is a monumental match at Melbourne’s AAMI Park, with the Rebels set to play a home game in Melbourne for the first time since March last year. The team spent all of last season on the road due to COVID, but still managed to make the finals series.
They’ll face a winless Waratahs side who will simply be desperate for a win, currently sitting four competition points behind the Western Force.
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In the other match, the Reds could climb to the top of the standings with a win in front of their home crowd. But the Force will be looking to rain on their parade, and potentially climb into the top three by doing so (depending on the Rebels result).
Here are the four key matchups to watch out for in round five.
Matt To’omua (Rebels) vs Will Harrison (Waratahs)
There’s always going to be plenty of pressure on 10’s to perform well, but in this match, it just seems like it may mean that little bit more.
To’omua has been a standout for the Rebels this year, and has been reliable enough with the boot to keep his team in the contest.
In their season opener against the Reds in round two, he converted six penalties but unfortunately missed what would’ve been the match-winner after the siren. But considering the fact that his side didn’t score a try in that match and still managed to lead for nearly 80-minutes, that says a lot about To’omua’s impact.
Similarly, he kicked eight from eight against the Brumbies in Canberra, and so nearly guided his side to a win, had it not been for a long-range Ryan Lonergan penalty after the siren. Again, the Rebels didn’t score a try but lost a relatively high-scoring game (27-24).
The kicking accuracy of Will Harrison could also be crucial, as he’s also incredibly reliable off the tee.
But most importantly, leadership from both of these players will be vital.
Realistically, the Waratahs need a win this weekend to stay in the race for finals, so Harrison will have to outperform his opposite if they’re to be a chance. It’ll no doubt be an exciting matchup though, between two of the premier pivots in Australian rugby.
Marika Koroibete (Rebels) vs Jack Maddocks (Waratahs)
After round four, I said that Marika Koroibete was the best winger in the world right now. He’s been absolutely incredible for the Rebels, despite not crossing for a try.
In his past two matches, the 2019 John Eales Medallist ran for a total of 251 metres, including 134 from 14 runs against the Force. Across those two games, he’s also beaten 18 defenders (including 12 against the Brumbies).
He’ll be one of the go-to men for the Rebels this weekend, and don’t be surprised if he scores his first of the season.
But he’ll be coming up against another Wallaby in Jack Maddocks, who is set to start his second match in a row on the right-wing, with Mark Nawaqanitawase retaining the 15 jersey.
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Maddocks had the equal second-most carries of any Waratahs player n round four (11), and ran for the third most metres of anyone in the team (44), so that’s a positive, but this week will be a great test for him. If he can keep Koroibete from having a significant contribution in attack, while also being able to pick his moments, then the Waratahs could be a chance of an upset.
Harry Wilson (Reds) vs Brynard Stander (Force)
When it comes to the battle of the forwards, this is the matchup to look out for.
After making his test debut in the first Bledisloe Cup test last year, Wilson was a standout for the Wallabies. Last week he played arguably his best match of the Super AU season so far, in what was a highly-entertaining clash against the Brumbies.
The 21-year-old crossed for a crucial try in Canberra with 13 minutes to go, and also finished the night with a try assist to his name. He also had the most carries of any player on the night – his work ethic is outstanding.
But lining up against Wilson will be the Forces’ inspiration captain in Brynard Stander, who of course led them to win over the Waratahs a couple of weeks ago, which was their first Super Rugby win since returning from rugby exile.
Stander is a consistent performer who like Wilson, brings plenty of physicality to the contest.
Angus Blyth coming up against former All Black Jeremy Thrush in the second-row will also be one to look out for, as will the front row battle which includes Greg Holmes lining up for his 150th.
Suliasi Vunivalu (Reds) vs Richard Kahui (Force)
Running through the team lists, this is the matchup that stood out the most to me.
Vunivalu is set to start his second match in a row for the Reds, having scored in his starting debut in round four against the Brumbies.
Lining up against him will be World Cup winning All Black Richard Kahui in what is an intriguing clash. The 35-year-old has started two matches for the Force this season, both at inside centre. But him shifting to the wing will see the strong tackler in Kahui come up against Vunivalu, who was a prolific try-scorer in his NRL days.
There’s a lot to like about this matchup but also plenty of excitement and intrigue.
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