Here's your expression of interest New Zealand Rugby: Five things we learnt

Super Rugby - AU
by Christy Doran

The Reds traveled to Canberra looking to snap a six-match losing streak in the nation's capital.

They fell short by two points, with Mack Hansen sealing a 22-20 win.

Here are five things we learnt from the gripping contest.

YOUR EVIDENCE

If New Zealand Rugby still wants an expression of interest, they've got one now.

Rugby Australia Chairman Hamish McLennan need only show New Zealand CEO Mark Robinson the tape of last night's enthralling contest between the Brumbies and Queensland Reds.

The match had everything: silky skills, huge hits, exciting young talent and a grandstand finish.

It was the type of contest that would have even had New Zealand's scribes, perhaps even former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen too, feeling a bit sick in the stomach.

Who'd have thought that an Australian team, better still two sides, would be capable of such a high quality spectacle?

The sight of Taniela Tupou - the 135 kilogram 'Tongan Thor' wrecking ball - charging into the defensive side twice in the 70th minute was something to behold. He is the most exciting front-row forward in world rugby. 

Just as impressive was the textbook tackle from unheralded replacement hooker Connal McInerney to cut the Wallabies tight-head prop down.

Who'd have thought Jordan Petaia was playing his first match in five months either?

The 20-year-old is no longer a teenage sensation, but his impact on Australian rugby has yet been felt given his injury-riddled start to his career. Yet the way in which he returned via the bench for the Reds was something for all Australians to get excited about.

Without his injury though, the potential of Hunter Paisami might not have been unearthed as quickly. The 22-year-old similarly rose to the occasion like New Zealanders so often do, catching the eyes of his national selectors to earn a place in Dave Rennie's Players of National Interest squad.

Better still, the rookie back has re-signed with the Reds for another two years.

And what to make of Harry Wilson's performance? It was only in March that Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said that he'd "fallen" for the Junior Wallabies star back-rower. On Saturday, Wilson had his best performance of Super Rugby AU, scoring a try and showing his all-round skills and big engine.

The Brumbies, too, showed that there's many ways to skin a cat and their late victory showed that they're learning that New Zealand-esque quality of managing to grind out wins when they should have lost.

They didn't play with the same flamboyance as their domestic rivals, but their rolling maul is as good as any and the kicking game for their wingers shows their rounded game.

Dig a bit deeper too and you'll learn that they rolled out their youngest locking duo too, with Darcy Swain and Nick Frost showing their potential and stepping up following the departures of Rory Arnold and Sam Carter.

Bayley Kuenzle and Mack Hansen have both made strong starts to their Super Rugby careers too, showcasing once again that the Brumbies' pathway system is working.

Sure the crowd might not have been what we've seen across the ditch, with Super Rugby Aotearoa recapturing New Zealand's interest in the domestic competition. But had there been on a roof on GIO Stadium, as its hoped there will be in the not so distant future, it would have been lifted off such was the noise made when Hansen coolly slotted his match-winning long-range penalty.

Friday night's match between the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels might not have reached the same heights as Saturday's, but there were still some highlights to get excited about. The Force scored a couple a great tries, while Super Time provided an exciting finish to the stop-start contest.

The arrival of World Cup-winning All Black Richard Kahui, where he's joined fellow Kiwi international Jeremy Thrush at the Force, has shown the benefit of having New Zealanders play for Australian franchises.

Already Rugby Australia has said they'll pick Australian playing across the ditch. Were New Zealand to relax their eligibility laws, Super Rugby would benefit for it.

 

ALL HOPE NOT LOST FOR WALLABIES

Those that have been watching closely Super Rugby on both sides of the ditch might have been left with the sense that nothing will change come Bledisloe time in recent months.

Has the gap closed? Probably not yet. The intensity that all of New Zealand's sides play with still remains a step ahead.

Saturday's fixture showed, however, that at least two Australian sides can play to that level though.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Rennie's first Players of National Interest squad earlier in the year was heavily made up of those from the Reds and Brumbies.

Rennie has options at his disposal.

The second-row remains the biggest area of concern, but the front-row stocks are strong. The emergence of Wilson and Rob Valetini is putting pressure on the incumbents while neither Pete Samu nor Liam Wright made the World Cup squad.

Even in the backs, Petaia's return, Irae Simone's massive improvement, the emergence of Paisami and the impressive coming of age of James O'Connor means that Rennie and his assistant coach Scott Wisemantel can attack in multiple ways.

All hope isn't lost.

WALLABIES BOLTERS

Make of this what you will but until Simone joined the Brumbies he wasn't Super Rugby quality.

A couple of seasons' later and Simone is knocking on the door to become a Wallaby.

When Simone arrived at Super Rugby level with the Waratahs, his then-Northern Suburbs coach Simon Cron rated him very highly. Yet, he never found his feet at the Waratahs.

In 2020, we've seen Simone's potential. He has time on his hands, he's a relatively big body and has lovely skills for a second playmaker. Not only that, his kicking game is the best of any Australian inside centre in Super Rugby.

His combination with Tevita Kuridrani could see both men in gold come October.

The other person to keep a close eye on is Jock Campbell.

The Reds fullback hasn't exactly come from nowhere, but he was one of the more surprising selections in Rennie's PONI squad.

Campbell has that same elusiveness that All Blacks great Ben Smith had. He beat three defenders on Saturday night and showed his toughness by getting up after being whacked by Scott Sio and then again by bringing down Solomone Kata out wide. 

Before COVID-19 forced Super Rugby's suspension too, Campbell 17 tackle busts which was the Reds' most and had him ninth overall in the competition.

The other aspect to Campbell's game that is impressive his ability to ball play. It's what has held Tom Banks back. Campbell can create and is more than capable passing both to his right and left.

LINEOUT FAILURES

Were it not for Alex Mafi's lineout struggles, the Reds probably would have sealed the deal before Fraser McReight gave away a penalty as he attacked the breakdown.

Mafi's a talented player. He's mobile and got great skills for a hooker.

But the Reds' lineout was attacked in the second half and they lost four throws, but more than that it was the poor ball they got from the set-piece too.

Three times between the 60th and 63rd minutes the Reds couldn't execute at the lineout, with one throw not straight, another pinched and a third uncontrolled at the front.

Locky McCaffrey's touch in front of Angus Scott-Young to win the ball in the 80th minute allowed the Brumbies one last chance to win too.

ASTUTE BRUMBIES

The Brumbies' three tries against the Reds all came from the rolling maul.

But don't be confused from thinking the Brumbies are one-trick ponies.

Before COVID struck, only the Sharks had scored more tries from plays starting outside the opposition 22 than the Brumbies' 12 of 31.

On Saturday, the Brumbies showed great variation in how they attacked.

In particular, it was the kicking game for their wingers Kata and Tom Wright that caught the eye.

The Brumbies' playmakers, particularly in the 10 and 12 channel, continually to draw the defensive line up and put the ball on the toe to grubber ahead.

It didn't pay off against the Reds, but had the ball sat up on two occasions both men would have scored crucial tries.

We saw the Brumbies kick for their wingers before COVID-19 shutdown Super Rugby with Kata in particular benefiting from the kicks.

They continue to show astute variation in their attack.