After three months and 22 matches of closely contested Australian rugby, the Brumbies broke their 16-year title drought by defeating the Reds 28-23 in last Saturday’s Final. It was a tense finale to what’s been a massively successful domestic experiment.
Innovation and winning rugby have led the way for the reignition of passion for rugby Down Under. Initially, the changes were met with some scepticism, but to Rugby Australia’s credit, their decisions have brought out the best in some of the country’s emerging talent.
The standard of play definitely got better week after week too, which made for a highly dramatic finish to the regular season, and the finals series. The success of the competition has also been reflected in Dave Rennie’s first Wallabies squad, with 16-uncapped players having been named.
Looking back over the season, plenty of players impressed, but to narrow it down, here’s RugbyPass’s Super Rugby AU team of the season.
- James Slipper (Brumbies)
Slipper didn’t have to start every game this season to really stand out. Playing almost interchangeably with Wallaby Scott Sio, with one starting and the other off the bench, the 31-year-old was impressive, and took his opportunities when they presented themselves. Take last weekend’s Final as an example, the Brumbies were on the backfoot at the scrum, but Slipper came on for the last 30 minutes and stabilised things. He’s been making his mark on games like this all season.
- Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies)
I can’t imagine that there’ll be too many disagreements here – Fainga’a was simply on another level this season. He was accurate throwing into the lineout, and his work rate around the park has to be admired. But it has to be said: Fainga’a knows how to score tries. Especially at GIO Stadium, whenever there’s a driving maul, he always looked a chance of crossing over and a lot of the time, he did.
- Taniela Tupou (Reds)
For a lot of people, the Tongan Thor was the MVP from Super Rugby AU. I’d go as far to say that this was the coming of age for Tupou, who really matured this season. He domianted opposition players with his strength; just look at last weekend’s Final when he monstered Wallaby Scott Sio at the scrum – it’s scary what this guy is capable of. We also saw him run in space plenty of times this season which let him showoff his skillset that not many tighthead props possess.
- Matt Philip (Rebels)
For me, Philip was the most improved player from this season. The 26-year-old arguably had the best work rate in the entire competition. He was constantly bouncing up off the deck and looking to immediately get involved which was outstanding, and hasn’t gone unnoticed with the lock having been named as the Rebels Players’ Player. He got busy with carries and in defence as well, and stepped up as a leader for the Rebels at the set-piece.
- Trevor Hosea (Rebels)
Yes it’s controversial – no Lukhan Salakaia-Loto. But Trevor Hosea has simply been a revelation for not just the Rebels, but for Australian rugby this season, and appears to be an answer to Australia’s depleted second row stocks. The 20-year-old had a real presence about him at the lineout, and was a brick wall in defence with a tackle accuracy of 93%.
- Liam Wright (Reds)
Brad Thorn’s decision to name Wright as the Reds captain for the 2020 season turned plenty of heads at the time, but has proven to be a masterstroke after a great campaign from the flanker. The 22-year-old made 119 tackles throughout the domestic competition, and was up there among the leaders for turnovers won. He also really stepped up as a captain, and made some mature decisions that so nearly led his side to glory.
- Fraser McReight (Reds)
Last year’s Junior Wallabies captain has taken every chance that has come his way this season, and has well and truly made the Reds number seven jersey his own. Around the breakdown, McReight is up there with the best for his ability to pilfer and turnover the ball. Generally, the 21-year-old has a work rate that never stops, which would’ve gone a long way to seeing him selected in the Wallabies last week.
- Harry Wilson (Reds)
Wilson’s selection was a given, but don’t forget: this guy was a rookie! Wilson has made every step up through the Queensland rugby ranks appear seamless, and this didn’t stop at Super level. Wilson made the most tackles of any player in the competition with 120, and was also top five in carries. The 20-year-old has had fans and pundits alike singing his praises this season, and it’ll be interesting to see what the skilful number eight can do in a Wallabies jumper later this year. An honourable mention has to go to Isi Naisarani, who was incredibly impressive and so nearly could’ve made this list. Naisarani was a workhorse, and constantly got the Rebels out of danger with his strong carries.
- Tate McDermott (Reds)
Wow. Just wow. For me, McDermott was the player of the season. His ability to snipe around the ruck and cause havoc for the opposition is exactly what the Wallabies need, as well as his courage to put his body on the line in defence. In round seven, he made three try-saving tackles against the Rebels, which included stopping Marika Koroibete from point-blank range. A week later, McDermott scored what was arguably the try of the season, showcasing his ability to create something from nothing.
- James O’Connor (Reds)
O’Connor scored the most points and had the most try assist of any player this season, but still flew under the radar at times. The 30-year-old stepped up when it counted and helped guide his young teammates to famous wins, and so nearly led them to a title. O’Connor will face plenty of competition for the Wallabies 10 jersey, but definitely deserves a crack after a consistently impressive campaign.
- Filipo Daugunu (Reds)
Daugunu was always going to make this list after the season he’s had. He was electric in attack, in particular, topping the charts in more than one area. Daugunu scored the most tries of any player, ran the most metres, had the most carries, beat the most defenders, and had the most offloads. What more can I say? He was the best winger in the competition. His work rate too was absolutely phenomenal as he constantly looked to get his hands on the ball, even if he had to go looking in the midfield for it.
- Irae Simone (Brumbies)
The New Zealand-born, Wallaby in-waiting has been one of the breakout players from Super Rugby AU. Simone stepped up as a playmaker when Noah Lolesio went down injured, finishing the season in the top five for try assists. He also stood out for his work rate, and ability to do the small things in order to make big things happen – be that exiting well with the boot, running strongly, or tackling effectively.
- Kyle Godwin (Force)
Godwin’s decision to return to the Force was a helpful boost for his side, as they prepared for their return to Super Rugby. The 28-year-old got better as the season went on, stepping up as a playmaker and a leader especially. Great news for the Force to have had Godwin back with the Force next year, after he reportedly knocked back an offer from the Waratahs.
- Tom Wright (Brumbies)
Wright has been right up there all season as one of the better outside backs that Super Rugby AU has had to offer. His ability to find the try line and make the most of his pace has been a sight to behold all season. The former NRL player finished second overall for tries scored with five, but led the competition in clean breaks.
- Jack Maddocks (Waratahs)
This spot could’ve easily have gone to a number of players, with both Jock Campbell and Tom Banks hitting form at different times of the season. But Maddocks impressed in his new colours, especially in the opening couple of rounds. The fullback scored a memorable try in the opening round of Super Rugby AU, running a direct line through a hole in the Reds defence. Maddocks would go on to finish the season among the leaders for metres run.
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