2. Pocket rocket at heart of Reds’ revival
Say it quietly, but Jordan Petaia was enduring a frustrating start to the year even before his season-ending injury.
He is of course, a massive loss, but it wasn’t clicking for him against either the Brumbies or the Lions in the first two rounds. Or, to put it another way, there were some huge expectations put on his young shoulders and they were very hard to meet.
Enter Hunter Paisami, the 21-year-old midfielder who had tongues wagging with an eye-catching display off the bench against the Waratahs in their pre-season game in Dalby. Paisami is enjoying that moment in young Super Rugby careers when opposition don’t really know who you are and find themselves put on their backsides by a rookie who doesn’t look that big but is built close to the ground and punches well above his weight.
That honeymoon period will end soon but for now Paisami is giving Reds fans a lovely glimpse into the future with his hard running and tackling. Incidentally, I don’t see Paisami and Petaia an either/or debate when Petaia returns: Paisami has all the tools to be an excellent No 12 with Petaia running off his offloading game at outside centre.
3. Will Miller the latest example of the ‘Brumbies effect’
It was only a matter of time before the Waratahs exile Will Miller started to come through at the Brumbies and he was part a really balanced back row effort against the Chiefs.
I think the Pete Samu-Miller-Rob Valetini trio is their best starting combination because they have athleticism, power and breakdown prowess. The Chiefs’ back row is highly regarded but the Brumbies beat them to the punch for much of the game and Miller was an integral part of that.
Wallabies chances? They’re reasonable because the lack of bulk that perhaps held Miller back in the earlier years of his career is no longer a question. He has bulked up and it’s probable that he will only get better from here. The Brumbies host the Waratahs on March 15 – Miller’s duel with Michael Hooper already looks like it could have a bit hanging on it.
4. When the Team of the Week gets tough
Sometimes picking an Australian team of the week is a simple affair – load it up with players from the only standout team performance. That happens too many times for anyone’s liking but there were two genuinely good Australian performances on Saturday. That begs the question: how do you select players when there are stats to justify player A and player B?
For example, who was the ‘better’ player on Saturday? Tom Banks or the elusive Jock Campbell? Tevita Kuridrani or Paisami? Lolesio or James O’Connor?
It’s not an exact science but context comes heavily into play. For the Brumbies to go over and topple the previously unbeaten Chiefs, and make Damian McKenzie look ordinary, is on a different level to beating the Sunwolves at home.
That’s no disrespect to the Reds, who played some lovely footy, but the Brumbies had to go to some tough places to win in New Zealand and that can’t be ignored.
5. Is it really too hard to appreciate what South Africa brings?
Super Rugby’s critics have plenty to aim at but there is one complaint that’s hard to cop: that is, the competition is just too hard to connect with because it has teams from South Africa that we just don’t know about.
It’s lazy. The Springboks are the best team in the world and some of their Super Rugby players have some of the most inspirational storylines anywhere in world rugby right now The Sharks, for example, have Makazole Mapimpi – the brilliant winger who scored South Africa’s first try in a Rugby World Cup final – and he cut the Rebels to pieces at times on Saturday.
They also have Aphelele Fassi, Madosh Tambwe and Sanele Nohamba, representing a thrilling new wave of black South African talent.
If you can’t appreciate the Sharks – and the buildup to Mapimpi’s second try in Ballarat was as good as anything you’ll see in the comp – I’d have to ask how hard you are trying. Their four-week tour of New Zealand and Australia concludes with a game against the Reds in Brisbane next Saturday: do yourself a favour and watch it.
Australian Super Rugby Team of the Week
- James Slipper (Brumbies)
- Connal McInerney (Brumbies)
- Taniela Tupou (Reds)
- Murray Douglas (Brumbies)
- Angus Blyth (Reds)
- Rob Valetini (Brumbies)
- Will Miller (Brumbies)
- Pete Samu (Brumbies)
- Tate McDermott (Reds)
- Noah Lolesio (Brumbies)
- Henry Speight (Reds)
- Hamish Stewart (Reds)
- Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies)
- Solomone Kata (Brumbies)
- Tom Banks (Brumbies)
Paul Cully is a rugby columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.