The Roar’s Super Rugby AU team of the season
After suggesting last week’s qualifying final was one of the best Australian derby games in years, it’s only fair to note that Saturday night’s final topped it in exactly the way you would hope. The Brumbies came into the decider in what could only be described as patchy form, despite winning two of the last […]
After suggesting last week’s qualifying final was one of the best Australian derby games in years, it’s only fair to note that Saturday night’s final topped it in exactly the way you would hope.
The Brumbies came into the decider in what could only be described as patchy form, despite winning two of the last three games after their bye. The Reds’ form had been superb, winning their last four and controlling the qualifying final over the Rebels like a team on the charge.
Come the final, they couldn’t quite get it done, going down 28-23 to a Brumbies side that constructed a game plan to mitigate the efficiency and impact of the Reds back row, executed it with precision, and dominated long periods of attack to lay the platform for the win.
But with the trophy now back under lock and key at Brumbies HQ in Canberra, it feels like the right time to recognise who we’ve come up with as the best players across the Super Rugby AU season.
1. James Slipper (Brumbies)
The veteran loosehead admitted winning a Super Rugby title in a Brumbies jersey against the team he played more than a hundred games over the course of a decade for was bittersweet, but he has re-discovered his game since moving south to Canberra and is now very obviously the best no.1 in the country.
The Brumbies have had the luxury of rotating Slipper and Scott Sio between the starting side and the bench, but in the final, as has been the case all season, Slipper’s impact was huge. If the Brumbies have encountered scrum issues, he has inevitably solved most problems.
2. Folau Fainga’a (Brumbies)
No.2 jerseys have been something of a poisoned chalice in Australia since the resumption of play, with lineout throws being sprayed everywhere and opposition locks eyeing off a steal at any given opportunity. But the cream always tends to rise, and Fainga’a was one of the most accurate throwers in the competition. Indeed, the Brumbies lost just one lineout in the final.
His try-scoring exploits are well known, too, going over for his fifth in Super Rugby AU, to go with another five earlier in the year. We’ll throw an honourable mention to the Rebels’ Jordon Uelese.
3. Taniela Tupou (Reds)
The big Reds tighthead was named the Super Rugby AU player of the tournament on Saturday night, and it’s no great surprise to admit he was one of the first names on our sheet for this selection. His scrummaging has invited scrutiny from opposition coaches in recent weeks, but his impact around the field is undeniable, with big hits, runs into contact that started from distance, and ball-in-hand skills that plenty of backs dream of. An easy pick.
4. Trevor Hosea (Rebels)
The young Rebels lock has impressed in every outing in Super Rugby AU, so much so that he was rewarded with a place in Dave Rennie’s first Wallabies squad, and probably at the expense of Brumbies lock Caderyn Neville, who was every bit as good but hasn’t made the cut for our team.
Hosea hasn’t enjoyed the headlines of plenty of other teammates from last year’s Junior Wallabies squad, but his quality is just as clear. His arrival comes at a the time when lock looks to be the one area of concern around the country.
5. Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (Reds)
His final didn’t end the way he’d have hoped, but Salakaia-Loto was a major reason behind the Reds storming into contention early in the tournament with his excellent set-piece work, solid defence and strong ball-carrying. He suddenly appears to be the mobile second-rower plenty of pundits and fans thought he could become when he was forced to try and play as the back-rower he wasn’t quite capable of playing as. It will be really interesting how his domestic form translates to the international game this year.
6. Liam Wright (captain) (Reds)
Wright was quite good at openside in the middle patch of the competition, but it was at blindside where he didn’t miss a beat. Deploying him at no.6 allowed the Reds to play the stronger on-ball breakdown game that become the platform for their surge in form over the last month and right into the final.
He has established himself in just a few months as a quality leader on and off the field, too. It’s quite incredible to think he is still a few months shy of his 23rd birthday.
7. Fraser McReight (Reds)
Fraser McReight was the reason Wright switched back to six for the second half of the year sides, with his form off the bench so good that Brad Thorn simply had to start him. The result was a dominant Reds breakdown, where as well being a team prepared to tackle themselves into the ground, they won 22 more turnovers than the other four Australian sides. McReight was responsible for 18 of those himself, the leading pilferer in the competition by a good margin.
8. Harry Wilson (Reds)
One of our harder selections, because while he picked up in AU where he left off in Super Rugby, Harry Wilson trailed off a bit at the same time the Reds’ form as a team soared. Brumbies no.8 Pete Samu was the biggest challenger as we saw it, and in the end, Wilson’s workrate up through the middle channels got him the nod. Led the competition for tackles made and ranked second for carries.
9. Joe Powell (Brumbies)
Not just one of the hardest picks, but the hardest of them all. A genuine toss of the coin between Powell and Tate McDermott from the Reds, which in the end we decided fell Powell’s way simply because whenever he played well, the Brumbies followed. McDermott has a strong running game, but his passing service has been found wanting at times in recent weeks, whereas Powell’s has remained sharp. Almost a crying shame that a winning final will likely be his last start in a Brumbies jersey for the immediate future.
10. James O’Connor (Reds)
The debate about the Wallabies no.10 jersey has cranked up in recent weeks, and was only further complicated by Noah Lolesio’s performance in Saturday night’s final. But James O’Connor’s game management over the last month has been first class, kicking the cover off the ball as the Reds built a game plan around playing only up the other end of the field, while also kicking penalty goals whenever offered.
Ranked third in the competition for carries and second for offloads, which might underline the widely held view that he might be of more benefit to the Wallabies one position further out.
11. Filipo Daugunu (Reds)
Another Red who didn’t have the performance in the final he was hoping to, but that shouldn’t take away from what has been a wonderful campaign from the left winger. Daugunu led the competition for tries, metres, carries, defenders beaten, and offloads, and was second for clean breaks. And just for good measure, he also finished top five in the comp for turnovers won. Some of his skills on show this season have been simply mind-blowing.
12. Irae Simone (Brumbies)
Inside centre became a matter of Simone’s attack against Hamish Stewart’s defence, and in the end, it was Simone that won out primarily for the way he held the Brumbies attack together over the entire campaign. He played with four different Brumbies at flyhalf, and at least three different partners at outside centre, as Dan McKellar made changes during games and tweaked selections over the season. A shout-out to Karmichael Hunt too, who was excellent whenever he wore the Waratahs’ no.12.
13. Kyle Godwin (Force)
Another difficult selection, this one was tricky because there was no clear standout, but plenty of strong performances in a crowded field that included Red Hunter Paisami and Waratah Joey Walton.
It took Force coach Tim Sampson a few games to work out his best shape and combination from which to launch midfield attacks, but it became clear that Godwin was the player to build it around. He played in a number of positions in truth, but did all his best attacking in the 13 channel and proved to be more than a handful for opposition defenders. No surprise at all the Force snapped him up for the next few season when his long-rumoured Waratahs deal suddenly fell over.
14. Tom Wright (Brumbies)
Something of a liberty has been taken here, certainly, but such was the standout form of Daugunu and Wright on the left wings that both demanded selection. Like his Queensland counterpart, Wright often played with a roaming commission, but he quickly emerged as one of the best finishers in Australian rugby and for which he was rightly rewarded with his first Wallabies squad selection. Honourable mentions need to go to the Force’s Byron Ralston and the Waratahs’ James Ramm.
15. Jock Campbell (Reds)
Campbell looked a bit shaky at fullback pre-COVID, but after going back to the wing and rediscovering his form, his impact when shuffled to fullback in the opening weeks of Super Rugby AU was so good that Thorn had no choice but to bench Bryce Hegarty.
Campbell’s ability to beat the first defender is outstanding, and he’s clearly relished the ability to operate in more open space up through the middle of the field. Tom Banks took a few games after returning from injury to find some form, and by the time he did, Campbell was the man.
Sports opinion delivered daily
Coach: Dan McKellar (Brumbies)
This might seem an obvious choice after the Brumbies were crowned champions on Saturday night, but when you consider the work Tim Sampson did with the Force while shut out from Western Australia, and the way Brad Thorn built his game plan around his pack, suddenly it isn’t so obvious at all.
McKellar was prepared to try different gameplans, different players, and different combinations, even if it might have cost the Brumbies games. Ultimately, he always had the squad to carry out what was the ideal plan to nullify the Reds’ breakdown in the final and build a sharp attacking platform from there.
The only real failure for all of 2020 was trying to insist Tevita Kuridrani hadn’t been dropped while simultaneously admitting he’d been given improvements in his game to work on from outside the team.