The top five performers in Australia
OPINION: Finn Morton looks at the top five performers from Round five of the Super Rugby Australia.
Super Rugby AU might’ve just had its best round yet, with both the Melbourne Rebels and Brumbies fighting until the final whistle of their matches to earn important wins.
With the pain of the Force’s controversial exit from Super Rugby still fresh in everyone’s minds, there was plenty of feeling and passion shown against rivals the Rebels on Friday.
The Force and Rebels couldn’t be split at either half or full-time, with the sides going to Super Time to decide a winner. Isi Naisarani proved to be the difference between the two teams, crossing over in golden point to celebrate his return and 50th match in style.
The other match was a top of the table clash between the Brumbies and the Queensland Reds, with both teams coming into the match undefeated.
The Reds clawed their way back from 14-0 down to lead by one-point when the siren sounded.
But a penalty at the breakdown gave replacement Mackenzie Hansen an opportunity to win the game for the Brumbies. Hansen converted the penalty, with the Brumbies now sitting seven competition-points clear of the Reds in second place.
It really was an outstanding couple of Australian rugby matches in round five, with many players standing out. But, here’s just five of the best.
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Fergus Lee-Warner (Force)
With Rob Simmons set to join English side, London Irish, at the end of the Super Rugby AU season, all four Wallabies locks from last year’s Rugby World Cup will be plying their trade overseas as of 2021.
That means that Dave Rennie will be looking out for new players to make the set up to test match rugby, and Force lock Fergus Lee-Warner is the latest to have thrown himself into the mix.
The 26-year-old was tireless against the Rebels on Friday, making a big impact on the back of an elite work rate.
Lee-Warner carried the ball with purpose and passion all night, running the ball 13 times for 27 metres.
He also finished the game with a very impressive 17 tackles without missing any, and won one turnover for his side in what was overall a complete display.
Another Force player who impressed was Henry Stowers, with the blindside flanker continuing to standout in what has been a consistently impressive campaign so far. Stowers made the most tackles of any player on Friday with 21, and had 14 carries as well.
Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies)
Fainga’a is a try-scoring freak.
The hooker’s try in the sixth minute not only got his side off to the perfect start, but it also saw him etch his name into the history books once again, scoring for the fifth consecutive game at GIO Stadium in Canberra.
Not bad for a front-row.
Fainga’a crossed over for his second 27 minutes later, controlling the ball comfortably at the back of another driving maul which helped the 25-year-old march his way to the chalk.
While scoring tries off the back of driving mauls has nearly become a trademark of his game, Fainga’a also got involved around the field. He carried the ball well when he got his chances, and made seven tackles.
Captain Allan Alaalatoa was also impressive, carrying the ball 14 times and making 10 tackles. Along with Scott Sio who also played well, it wasn’t a bad night for the Brumbies front row.
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Harry Wilson (Reds)
Harry Wilson was back to his best against the Brumbies, showcasing a skillset that is simply beyond his years.
The 20-year-old was everywhere on Saturday night, running for a round high 82 metres, off 16 carries which was also equal best for the round.
He scored the Reds’ first try of the match, right when they needed it too. Trailing 14-3 at the break, the visitors came back onto the field for the second half knowing that if they didn’t score next, it very well could’ve been game over.
Wilson ran a great support line off a lively Jordan Petaia in his first match back, which saw the number eight run through the Brumbies defensive line and on his way to a decisive five-pointer just two minutes into the half.
He nearly scored another just three minutes later, but was stopped five metres short by Joe Powell. But instead of taking the ball to ground, Wilson kept the play alive by laying it off for Jock Campbell which led to another try for the Reds.
Wilson also made 20 tackles in the top of the table clash, and won one turnover, but it was his support play and work rate that was particularly outstanding.
Simply put, Harry Wilson was the player of round 5 and appears all but certain of donning Wallaby gold the next time the national side take the field.
Irae Simone (Brumbies)
Born in New Zealand, Simone may just be playing himself into an Australia jersey if he continue to perform like he did against the Reds.
From very early on, the 25-year-old stood out for his abundance of energy, and hungry desire to get his hands on the ball and make an impact for his side.
He had the most carries of any back in round five with 15, running for 52 metres. Simone also made 17 passes, proving himself to be a useful playmaker.
The inside centre also stepped up as a useful exit option when his side needed it, kicking the ball four times on Saturday night.
There’s a lot of talent in Super Rugby AU pushing for national honours, but after an impressive showing last week against the Force as well, all he has to do is keep performing as he has been.
Isi Naisarani (Rebels)
Naisarani returned for his first game back after a length spell on the sidelines with a hamstring strain, and soon made his presence known in what was also his 50th Super Rugby match.
Playing against one of his former sides in the Force, his return to Super Rugby took a hit 24 minutes in when he was yellow carded for not rolling away at the breakdown.
When he returned to the field 10 minutes later, the number eight made an immediate impact. With his first run at the Force, he carried two defenders with him in one of his many powerful runs of the night.
He finished with 16 carries which were equal with Harry Wilson for best in the round, and 42 metres despite sitting out for ten minutes.
But the best players perform in the big moments, and Naisarani stood up when his team needed it most. In Super Time, Naisarani crossed for the match-winner with a pick and drive off the back of some momentum building runs from his fellow forwards.
Watch the try back – Naisarani played halfback for the two plays before the try. He was constantly looking to get involved; his experience and work ethic saw him standout in round five.
By Finn Morton, Rugbypass