Takeaways from opening night of Super Rugby AU

A new era in Australian rugby is at last underway.

Friday night's Super Rugby AU double-header, which was screened on Nine Gem and Stan Sport - the streaming service showing both games live - unfolded without any notable technical slip-ups and delivered just enough on-field entertainment to whet the appetite for the months ahead.

Certainly the Reds and Brumbies proved what many pundits had predicted in the preseason - that they will be cut above the Waratahs, Force and Rebels - who had the Round 1 bye - with resounding first-up wins.

Read on as we review some of the big talking points from the opening night of action.


They may have been 7-0 down after only three minutes, but it was all Queensland from thereon in as they rattled off 41 unanswered points to record their biggest ever Super Rugby winning margin over the Waratahs.

At the heart of their first-half surge, when they responded to the Waratahs' early strike with three tries in nine minutes, was fly-half James O'Connor whose switch of play back to the short-side, where he handled twice, put Jock Campbell over.

There was more than just a hint of a forward pass about O'Connor's final movement, but it was an early glimpse of the variety the Reds will have in their attack and the strike power up their sleeve.

Fraser McReight was in everything, picking up from where he left off in the 2020, and helped to put Felipe Daugunu in for the first of his two tries. The other standout forward was Fijian lock Seru Uru, whom the Reds have transitioned to lock from No. 8, but who still retains his back-row talents.

Uru produced an offload in the build-up to Campbell's try and generally gave the Waratahs trouble in defence whenever he carried the ball. After the twin lock departures of last year, and ongoing suspension of Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, the Reds may have unearthed something special in Uru.

All in all, this was as resounding a victory as Brad Thorn could have hoped for. Sure, the Reds lost their way a touch, with dropped ball creeping in and the lineout misfiring - as it did in 2020 - but a 34-point win over your greatest rival first-up is about as good as it gets.


The Waratahs could not have begun Friday night's match any better, as they split the Reds out wide and crossed shortly after through skipper Jake Gordon. But it was all downhill from there, and the slide continued on Sunday night.

Izaia Perese was handed a three-week ban at the judiciary for an ugly tip tackle - more on that shortly - which will only further stretch the Waratahs limp playing resources. Meanwhile, Gordon and centre Joey Walton will have scans on ankle injuries on Monday.

Just how NSW plan to right a scrum that was absolutely destroyed by the Reds will also have Rob Penney and his coaching staff scratching their heads. An impressive opening sequence aside, the Waratahs barely fired a shot thereafter with fly-half Will Harrison having an unhappy night, and the team lacking accuracy in simple skill execution across the park.

If there was one bright spot for the visitors it was No. 7 Carlo Tizzano, who was a continued presence over the ball at the breakdown and one of the few NSW forwards to carry with any authority. His 25 tackles, nine runs for 44 metres and two tackle busts, more than did Michael Hooper proud.

Turns out replacing the Wallabies skipper may in fact be well down the list of issues at the Waratahs.


First things first, Perese's tip tackle, which was almost after the whistle, was nothing short of idiotic. It was clearly dangerous, too, and completely deserving of a red card.

But having come in the 35th minute, the Waratahs were able to replace Perese when the clock wound past 55 minutes given the red-card replacement law variation in place for Super Rugby AU. It will also again be used across the ditch in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

And despite some negative reaction on social media in the northern hemisphere, the variation is undoubtedly worth persisting with. Losing a player for 20 minutes is a significant disadvantage, and the guilty party in no way escapes sanction as their day is done, before they later face the judiciary where the system remains as is.

Perese has paid the consequences - in the form of a three-week ban - while the Waratahs were left to lament his dismissal, even though it didn't cost them any points. The extra defensive work eventually told however, with the Reds running in two tries inside the final 10 minutes.

The variation will continue to have its detractors, but it is worth persisting with. We can stamp out dangerous play and promote player safety without destroying every contest in which such an incident occurs; the two don't have to be mutually exclusive.


The Reds may have turned on the style against the Waratahs, but the Brumbies were equally impressive in doing exactly what it is that the Brumbies do well - squeeze opposition teams out of games.

The Brumbies were asked to make 67 more tackles [216] than the Force, and did so at the incredibly high success rate of 92 percent. The Force kept coming, but time and time again they were repelled by a yellow wall that only eventually split when Tomas Cubelli ducked under a tackle on the tryline.

The Brumbies' maul defence was just as effective as their attacking driving maul, too, with big Cadeyrn Neville twice getting through to disrupt the Force's ball as they tried to rumble it over from close range.

The Force did find themselves on the end of a couple of highly technical calls from referee Graham Cooper, one of which saw him overrule his TMO and deny the hosts a try in the first half.

Force coach Tim Sampson also said his team was unable to get any continuity. But that was as much due to the Brumbies' excellent defence.

Then when it came to the attacking side of the ball, the Brumbies capitalised with the ruthless efficiency that has been the hallmark of the franchise's three title-winning seasons.


One such attacking occasion fell midway through the first half after the Brumbies had been asked to do a truckload of defensive work, and one that proved a dagger blow to the Force's chances of winning the match.

Scrum-half Nic White is always a threat in and around the ruck, his ability to jink in and out of defences and hold passes up to big forwards among the key reasons why Michael Cheika was so keen to bring him back to Australia in 2019, and then why he was a clear choice at No. 9 for Dave Rennie last year.

But rather than hit a forward in the front line, this time White drifted out, looked deep for a ball-carrier but then offloaded a sumptuous short, flat, pass to Noah Lolesio who ran in to score untouched.

White was in absolutely everything from there, and also engaged in a running battle with referee Cooper throughout. But his presence inside Lolesio is perhaps the biggest blessing for Australian rugby moving forward.

Having only returned to the Brumbies late last season, White had little time to settle and, coupled with Lolesio's injury, the duo never actually got to play alongside each other all that much. That was obvious when they combined in Sydney in Lolesio's Test debut when the Wallabies were flogged 43-5.

But things should only improve as they spend more time together in the Brumbies' halves, and that can only bode well for the Wallabies, too.


That was refreshing wasn't it? A host actually invested in what they were showing; insights and analysis at halftime, inside access to coaches and players; yep, Australian rugby's new broadcasters look like being great for the game Down Under.

After 25 years on Fox Sports, Australian rugby is officially in the free-to-air and streaming stables.

Executives from both Stan and Nine will have been happy with the action in Brisbane, with Jake Gordon's third-minute try the first of four first-half majors, before the Reds added another two inside the final 10 minutes.

The humid conditions eventually told on the ball-handling but the Suncorp Stadium clash generally flowed well under referee Damon Murphy, so much so that the 30 penalties - two more than were blown in Perth later Friday - actually didn't feel as though they were hindering the spectacle.

But the biggest asset of the coverage came during halftime of both matches when Allana Ferguson and former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika oversaw excellent analysis of the tries scored by Jock Campbell and Noah Lolesio.

In breaking down the change of direction and second-man play for Campbell's try, and the two separate attacking structures the Brumbies had largely used off Nic White earlier in the half, Cheika in particular took fans into a virtual playbook for both the Reds and Brumbies.

It was a throwback to the halcyon days of Super Rugby coverage. Now they hope the audience will follow. Early indications are positive, with significant year on year lifts compared to Fox in 2020, even without the addition of Stan's streaming numbers and in the face of the Australian Open semi final on Nine's main channel.

The new boys have made a strong start though. Even the misspelling of William Web[b] Ellis in a 60-second promo can be excused, as ol' Bill would likely let that slide if he knew what Nine and Stan Sports had otherwise dished up to date.