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The race is on: Two front-runners emerge in bid to be Wallabies' No. 10

By Finn Morton
Ben Donaldson of Australia celebrates with Carter Gordon of Australia after scoring his team's fourth try during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between Australia and Georgia at Stade de France on September 09, 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Western Force No. 10 Ben Donaldson has emerged as Australia’s best fly-half during the opening few rounds of Super Rugby Pacific, according to former Wallaby Cameron Shepherd.

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The Force currently sit in last place on the ladder following defeats to the Hurricanes, Rebels and Brumbies, but Donaldson’s individual brilliance hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Donaldson, who started all four Test matches for Australia at last year’s Rugby World Cup, has let his rugby do the talking after making the move west following a stint with the Waratahs.

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The playmaker was front and centre at Canberra’s GIO Stadium in Round Three as the Force ran up a surprise lead over the heavily favoured Brumbies, although they couldn’t hold on in the end as they were beaten in a thriller.

While a zero still stands next to the Force’s name under the win column this season, former Wallaby Cameron Shepherd believes Donaldson is doing enough on his own.

“Personally I think there is, and I don’t think if you’d asked me 12 months ago I don’t think I would’ve said this but purely based on what I’ve seen, for me it’s Ben Donaldson,” Shepherd said on Stan Sports’ Rugby Heaven.

“I just love the way he tested the line on the weekend. His awareness, his kicking game, his support play. I think he’s been the standout personally.”

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Donaldson, who made the move to the Force as a marquee recruit along with halfback Nic White, was impressive during pre-season thrillers against the Reds and Brumbies.

But the playmaker has carried that form into competitive fixtures, as Super Rugby Pacific fans saw during last weekend’s loss to the men from Australia’s capital.

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Donaldson beat a few defenders on a stunning break less than 10 minutes into the Australian derby which led to Hamish Stewart’s try. That’s just one example, though.

“If you look at the stats and I’m really glad you asked me about this,” Shephard continued.

“Second in points (with) 22, 10 defenders beaten which makes him second, only one behind Carter Gordon. Three clean line breaks, he’s first out of all the Australian 10s. Two try assists and he’s had two called back so it should be four which would put him first as well.

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“He’s got the best tackle success and as I said, he’s done it in a losing side which is struggling with a lot of injuries in the pack in front of him.

“For me, I think he’s sitting in first at the moment, Carter Gordon a close second.”

While Donaldson may be slightly ahead in the race for the Wallabies’ No. 10 jersey on current form, the competition for that jumper is far from over.

Waratahs playmaker Tane Edmed has been impressive, as has Reds youngster Tom Lynagh and Brumbies regular Noah Lolesio.

But Melbourne Rebels fly-half Carter Gordon appears to be hot on Donaldson’s tail at the moment. Gordon, who also played for the Wallabies at the World Cup, has been superb in the wake of his rookie Test season.

Gordon scored two tries during the Rebels’ first win of the season in Super Round, and was generally quite brilliant again during their win over Moana Pasifika last weekend.

The Rebels have overcome an opening-round defeat to surge up the Super Rugby Pacific standings to fourth place behind the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Reds.

“Carter was the favourite fly-half last year,” panellist Sera Naiqama said. “He’s really hit the ground running.

“Considering all of the turmoil that the Melbourne Rebels are currently facing, and to see their team sitting at the top of the ladder in one of those top places, you must credit the performance.”

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