Contrasting styles were on show as we kicked off Round 2 of the National Rugby Championship, with Queensland Country breaking their Andy Purcell Cup drought against Brisbane City, and the Fijian Drua claiming their maiden NRC win.
1. Game of Thorns already having an impact
Queensland Country skipper Duncan Paia’aua again made mention of Brad Thorn’s unique training methods during the week, and it was very obvious the former champion All Black lock and Queensland State of Origin forward’s hard work is already paying off.
Country were certainly guilty of ineffective defence at times in 2016, but this season has already seen a marked improvement in just two games.
Impressive enough in the first half, but it was the second half in which the defence really stood out for Country, with their constant pressure forcing mistake after mistake from the Brisbane City attack.
From there, Country were able to transition from defence into attack with ease, and though they showed glimpses, City were just never able to get into the contest.
The NRC’s attacking focus is clear, but once again the old adage that defence wins matches is proven beyond doubt.
2. Another one for Tongan Thor’s greatest hits
As if his highlights package isn’t impressive enough, Queensland Country prop Taniela Tupou once again showed there’s much more to his game than sheer size and strength.
Hooker Alex Casey first showed a nice touch with the inside ball, finding Tupou perfectly as he burst through the gap and suddenly into space.
From there, the big fella showed just how much speed he’s got, and displaying his rugby brain by holding his out-in angle and making it impossible for the Brisbane City defenders to stop him.
It had already been a strong game for Tupou, both around the ground and at set piece, but this try is a nice reminder of his abundant attacking prowess, too.
3. There’s attack, and then there’s the Fijian Drua
If the best form of defence is attack, then the best form of attack is surely Fijian counter-attack.
It’ll be a tough task for the try-of-the-round judges this week, with three of four candidates just from the Drua alone in their 45-24 win over Melbourne Rising. And to be fair, the Rising scored some handy tries themselves at Harlequin Oval.
For sheer highlight replays alone, flyhalf Peceli Nacebe’s second try might be the pick. The second of three converted tries the Drua scored in six minutes of brilliance midway the second half, Nacebe swooped on a loose ball after the Rising had broken out from their own half themselves.
He then went on a swerving run to get around and through the arriving Rising defenders, before finding himself in space and putting the hammer down. Rising right winger Kitione Ratu showed some proper speed to try and run him down, but Nacebe had too much of a head start, launching into a triumphant swan dive as he scored.
4. But there’s always room for patience
Counter attacking tries from deep in your own half are great, obviously, but perhaps the most satisfying part of the Drua’s maiden NRC win was their ability to get down and dirty, and do the hard work when they needed to.
Twice they proved their ability to test the Rising defence through lengthy pick-and-drive passages, the second of which went 20 phases before crossing the line, only for the TMO to find no evidence what would have been a well-deserved try had been scored.
Coach Senirusi Seruvakula put his squad through plenty of work during the week in preparation for the Rising game, and this aspect of their play in Melbourne will please him undoubtedly.
There’s no doubt about the Fijians’ ability to find tries out of nothing, but if they are to be any chance of pushing for an NRC finals berth, their ability to hold possession and ask constant questions of opposition teams defending their line will be a huge factor.
5. Future of the Rebels on show
The Rising were right in this game up until that second half explosion of tries from the Drua saw the game get away them, but it’s worth remembering just how young this side is.
The average age of the backline in this match was just 20 years of age, with scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker finding himself in veterans’ territory at the ripe old age of 26.
Flyhalf Jack McGregor is just 20 and looks at home at this level after just two games. Centre Sione Tuipulotu is the same age and has two full Super Rugby seasons under his belt. Fullback Jack Maddocks made his Rebels debut this season, and he’s only seven days older than Tuipulotu.
These three players, among many other talented youngsters on the roster, very obviously form the future of the Rebels, and it will be really interesting to watch their combination build over this year’s NRC.