Round three of Super Rugby AU is in the books, with both the Queensland Reds and the ACT Brumbies finishing the round first and second respectively after winning their matches against valiant opposition.
The Reds have gone four matches without losing for the first time since 2013, but had to do it tough after surviving a scare from an exciting Western Force outfit.
Just like last week, it was a game of two halves for the Force who finished on the wrong side of the scoreboard after struggling to control a lead.
It was a similar tale for the New South Wales Waratahs, who blew a once 15-point lead against their rivals in the Brumbies, losing at the death.
Replacement halfback Issak Fines found a gap in the Waratahs defense, running through from five meters out to score next to the posts with mere minutes to run on the clock.
Another substitute in Bayley Kuenzle then slotted a relatively routine conversion to win the match for his side.
Was another great weekend of competitive rugby on Australian shores, with players from all teams impressing over the weekend. Let’s see who stood out as the five players of week three.
Andy Muirhead (Brumbies)
Let’s start off with the bad before we get to the good: a yellow card midway through the first half put his team in a pretty bad place, but the electric winger made up for it later.
With an abundance of energy, Muirhead was actively looking to get involved. At the death, he was arguably their standout player, looking the most dangerous and likely to break the Waratahs defensive line.
Finished just seven-meters short of the match-high tally for meters run, having run 91 meters off 10 carries despite his 10-minutes in the sin bin.
It was his hunger to make up for lost time that really impressed me.
Tom Banks deserves an honorable mention, in what was his first match back from injury. Banks had a key matchup against the in-form Jack Maddocks heading into the match, and the Brumbies fullback stood up when it counted.
He ran 98 meters, but looked dangerous whenever he had the ball. Stood up after Noah Lolesio went off injured, but still could’ve done more.
Byron Ralston (Force)
20-year-old Byron Ralston couldn’t have dreamed of a better start to his Super Rugby career. After making his debut last weekend against the Waratahs in Sydney, where he scored the Force’s first Super Rugby try in almost three years, Ralston made it three tries in two games with a double on Friday night.
The product of the Queensland rugby pathway shone in front of family and friends, with his standout moment being a 90-meter intercept try that brought the Force to within two points of the Reds on the stroke of half-time.
The winger ran the most meters of any player in one Super Rugby AU match so far, totaling 141 meters off 8 carries. He also held his own in defense and around the breakdown.
Definitely a rising star, and a player to look out for throughout the rest of the competition and beyond.
Fullback Jack McGregor also deserves mention after impressing against the Reds. He showed plenty of leadership from the back and impressed with ball-in-hand – crossing over for the first try of the match.
Filipo Daugunu (Reds)
Daugunu might just be the most exciting winger to watch in Super Rugby AU at the moment, constantly running with purpose whenever he gets the ball. He’s always looking to get involved too, finishing with the equal most carries of any Reds player with 13.
Scored his third try in as many weeks last Friday against the Western Force, showing brilliant footwork once again. His left foot is simply dangerous, cutting inside to beat not one but two Force defenders on his way to the chalk.
But his standout moment came on the stroke of half-time, charging down a Jono Lance conversion from just in front. Kept the Force behind by two at the break, and brought momentum back to his side. Very similar to what was seen in the Crusaders v Blues a couple of weeks ago.
Otherwise had an impressive game in defense and around the breakdown. With both pundits and fans calling for his Wallabies selection, Dave Rennie will be very tempted if he can keep this form up.
Chris Feauai-Sautia also impressed on the other wing for the Reds, running for a team-high 78-meters off nine carries. With Jock Campbell also finding his feet back at fullback, Brad Thorn might’ve found his go-to back three.
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (Reds)
After a solid performance last week against the Rebels, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto has backed it up with another impressive showing.
He mainly made his mark with ball-in-hand against the Force, having 13 carries which was equal most for the Reds alongside Filipo Daugunu and James O’Connor. The second-rower also impressed on defense, coming in equal second for tackles made with 12.
It’s his work rate which should catch Dave Rennie’s eye if he can maintain some consistency. The Reds need him to be consistent, but heck, so do the Wallabies.
Taniela Tupou was also a standout, helping Salakaia-Loto drive the Queensland Reds tight five.
Tupou carried three Force players with him on his way to the line from only a few meters out, but with one of those players being 198cm former All Black Jeremy Thrush, you’d be a harsh critic not to be impressed.
Discipline is still a bit of an issue for the 24-year-old, giving away two penalties. But the Reds were in control with their scrums, with Tupou a big part of that.
When it comes to effectiveness, the Reds wouldn’t be the same team without the Tongan Thor.
Will Harrison (Waratahs)
Harrison is showing poise simply beyond his years playing in the Tahs 10 jersey, impressing again against the Brumbies on Saturday night.
Coming up against Noah Lolesio in a battle for potential Wallabies honors, the Waratahs flyhalf showed both leadership and creativity that set him apart.
In the 28th minute, the 20-year-old took a quick tap before finding James Ramm with a nicely weighted near 40-meter kick across the field. It’s having the courage, skill, and self-confidence to pull that off in a big match that surely impressed Dave Rennie.
His goalkicking was also relatively impressive, but he did miss one late that ultimately cost his side. Was unlucky but it certainly didn’t cancel out all the good work he did around the park.