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The Wallabies who need to star in the quarter-finals against the Kiwi teams

By John Ferguson
Fraser McReight of the Reds and Darcy Swain of the Brumbies. (Photos by Hannah Peters/Getty Images and by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Finals rugby has arrived, after what has been the most entertaining and dramatic season of Super Rugby Pacific to date.

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The gap between the Australian and New Zealand sides has closed if only a little, and this heightened jeopardy has brought hope that this year may be the year the Bledisloe gets a shakeup.

The change in dynamic has come from more rounded squads and performances from the Australian franchises.

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While teams’ improved cohesion has been evident, individual players have taken this year to really cement their status as test-level players ahead of a jampacked international season.

Local derbies are always good for head-to-head matchups but with three Kiwi-Aussie quarter finals coming up this weekend, the Aussies that standout against Kiwi opposition will surely shine a little extra in selectors minds.

Ahead of what is promised to be a stellar weekend of quarter finals, let’s go on Wallaby watch and highlight some key players and match ups coming up this weekend.

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Fixture
Super Rugby Pacific
Chiefs
43 - 21
Full-time
Reds
All Stats and Data

Fraser McReight, openside

The Reds’ openside flanker has had another great Super season for the Reds.

After seemingly beefing up in the offseason he’s been able to use his new weight in-and-around the breakdown with great effect.

Unlike many who put on weight, McReight has lost none of his speed and has continued to be a menace in open play, popping-up off his teammates’ shoulders and scoring a handful of tries.

He has finished the regular season with 12 steals, 127 carries for 687 metres and an impressive 178 tackles for a percentage of 96 per cent.

His direct adversary in Hamilton will be 18 cap All Black Luke Jacobson.

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The pair will rarely cross paths on the night but their respective impact on the match will be noteworthy.

McReight will be judged on his tackle completion, his discipline at the breakdown and his ability to maintain his high work rate and support around the field.

Hunter Paisami, inside centre

The “Hit Man” has claimed more victims this season but what has been most impressive has been his double efforts and tactical gameplay.

He is one of the most damaging ball-running no.12s in Australia and has lightened the playmaking load on all three young flyhalves at the Reds.

He will need to go to another level as he goes up against a backline made up almost entirely of All Blacks.

Damien McKenzie will be sending Rameka Poihipi and Anton Leinart-Brown down Paisami’s channel all night, physically this won’t be a problem for the 24 capped Wallaby, but the ball movement might be.

The Chiefs have some of the best set piece strike plays in the comp and have regularly found holes in Australian defences.

Paisami will need all his experience as well as strength to be able to have a material effect on Friday night’s game.

Tate McDermott, halfback

The little general has found a new balance to his game, bringing out the best in the players around him.

A criticism of McDermott’s game has always been his pass, but in his newfound Zen under head coach Les Kiss it doesn’t appear to be hampering his game.

Finals rugby is all about scoreboard pressure and one sure way of securing that is territory.

McDermott will need to lighten the load on young Tom Lynagh when it comes to exiting their half.

Finals footy is all about the margins, making the right decisions consistently is key, McDermott is such an important player and leader for this side, he must call on all his experience if his side is to beat the odds and cause an upset on Kiwi soil.

Fixture
Super Rugby Pacific
Hurricanes
47 - 20
Full-time
Rebels
All Stats and Data

Taniela Tupou, tighthead prop

In a game where the Rebels’ backs will be against the wall the safety of a strong scrum will be a great comfort, and it is one area the Rebels will at the very least have parity.

Even during managed minutes, Tupou has shown he can turn the tide of a scrum on his own.

Although this is a huge skill and a great asset to the Rebels, the Melbourne side will need to see more from the “Tongan Thor” and perhaps, so too does new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt.

Although he is a 130kg giant, Tupou comes alive in the loose, with a deft tip-on game and explosive speed, he must show he can do it for at least 45 minutes at the weekend.

Globally, Tupou is acknowledged as a dangerous prospect but the front row he is coming up against in Asafo Aumua and Xavier Numia might be two of the only front rowers in the competition which have his number in explosivity.

This is a great audition for what is to come at Test-level, because there’s no doubt Tupou will feature in Schmidt’s plans.

Tupou must focus on the here-and-now for the Rebels to have shot, his core skills and a hunger to carry must come to the fore.

Jordan Uelese, hooker

The ambiguous talent that is Uelese has finally found some form in 2024.

He has augmented the Rebels’ power game well and has played his part in turning their scrum into a weapon.

While his physical attributes are clear to see, his lineout throwing continues to be below Test-standard.

This has been exacerbating the struggles of an inexperienced lineout caller in the absence of injured Lukhan Salakai-Loto.

For Uelese, this weekend is about handling the pressure at lineout time and making sure his involvements around the field don’t attract penalties.

If he does these two things, he will do the Rebels and his Wallabies aspirations a world of good.

Andrew Kellaway, fullback

There are few who can say they have had as big an impact on the Rebels’ season as Kellaway; his running lines, kicking strategy and maturity has served the Melbourne side well.

Although he has spent most of his time at fullback, it is most likely he will appear on the wing for the Wallabies after a stellar season from Tom Wright at no.15 from the Brumbies.

Many undervalue Kellaway’s danger in attack, but his stats speak for himself: 10 linebreaks, 44 defenders beaten and 1,103 run metres.

They are game breaking numbers and it’s the kind of X-factor the Rebels will need if they want to be able to keep up with the ‘Canes.

The Rebels’ problem has not been scoring points, rather it’s about keeping teams to a number they can match, 29 points seems to be their magic number.

Fixture
Super Rugby Pacific
Brumbies
32 - 16
Full-time
Highlanders
All Stats and Data

Tom Wright, fullback

The Brumby fullback is in the form of his career, and it has come less than 12 months after being snubbed from the Wallabies World Cup squad.

Wright is making all the right decisions and is not overplaying his hand, something which he has been guilty of in recent seasons.

This new found balance in his game is paired with a greater leadership role within the team, he can often be seen talking in the huddles and making his voice heard in and around the pitch.

He’s always been a good athlete with explosive power and speed as well as a mind for counter attacking, but he is now starting to become a more rounded and skilful rugby player.

He’s the third highest try scorer in SRP, which only stands to reason as he is one of the best at breaking the line and beating defenders in the comp.

His improved decision making, lethal attacking skills are now being complemented by a more physical presence in defence as well as a much smaller error count.

Risk taking is still a big part of his game and in finals footy the margins are so small and the consequences for mistakes are so large.

Showing he can play with maturity and restraint will be the biggest test for Wright at the weekend.

Darcy Swain, lock

The young lock has always walked close to the edge when it comes to aggression and it’s something he must do perfectly at the weekend.

Finals footy can be won and lost by how disciplined sides are, as scoreboard pressure is even more oppressive when the stakes are high.

Swaine must err on the side of caution when things get heated, because although it has been a risk, his aggression, physicality and competitive mindset are what set him apart from other young locks.

His skill in the defensive maul as well as work rate are some of the best in the country and the Brumbies will need him working overtime if they are to get the win at the weekend.

The Wallaby second row selections are wide open and in this finals series Swaine can show he is ready for test-rugby once again.

He is the right size, age and has the requisite experience to really cement himself as a test-lock, a SRP quarter final is not a bad place to show Schmidt his growth and skill.

Noah Lolesio, flyhalf

The previously maligned Brumby pivot has returned to Australian rugby after a brief stint in the French Top 14, as a much calmer, happier and more confident player.

This rediscovered confidence has seen Lolesio in some of his best club form to date and although there’s lots of exciting elements to his game currently, his game management is what is really standing out.

Ensuring the Brumbies are playing in the right parts of the field has been one of his key strengths, varying his kicking lengths, types and frequency has kept defences on the back foot.

This has meant he is playing with more time, allowing him to bring Wright and speedster Corey Toole into the game.

Lolesio must continue to leverage his x-factor players when the moment is right as well as control where on the field the game is being played.

If he continues his good game management and nails his goalkicking there then the Brums will be in the driver’s seat for the entire night in Canberra.

His mature gameplay has him firmly as the front runner to wear the Wallabies no.10 jersey, throughout this finals series he must show it all again in the high-pressure moments.

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2 Comments
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Nick 13 days ago

These are the respective whose who of the aus sides, but I have relative confidence in most of them they’ll do their job. It’s the other players that I think will have to lift if Aus teams are to be successful on the weekend. For the reds, players like Tom Lynagh and his game management and tee kicking vs mckenzie, jock campbell and his control of the backfield and kicking game, john bryant against the physicality of finau, and the small wingers taking on two barnstorming chiefs wingers. For the brumbies, can Vella hold up his side of scrum with Pollard? Is tom hooper a legit 2nd rower? Can lonergan step up to white’s shadow?

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