Super -- Not So Super -- Rugby Pacific: V for [Aussie] victories and Bobby Valetini

It may well prove to be the weekend when Super Rugby Pacific truly found its feet.

Six enthralling contests, five of which where the margin was just four points or less, were played across the weekend, while the historic first game on home soil for the Fijian Drua won't be forgotten anytime soon.

Read on as we review some of the Super - and Not So Super - action from Round 11.


Drua pipped but Suva stunner shows Fiji belongs

Fiji has endured a long wait for its own Super Rugby team, but it finally became a reality this season, only for COVID to prolong the agony of not seeing their heroes on home soil.

Finally, on Saturday, the Drua ran out onto ANZ Stadium in Suva, where they were greeted by a capacity crowd that was quickly on its feet.

And it was fitting that one of the stars of the competition, Vinaya Habosi, was quickly on the scoresheet as the winger followed up Frank Lomani's earlier score with a fleet-footed run down the left touchline.

At that point, it looked like the Drua would ride the raucous home support to a second Super Rugby victory. But, the Highlanders were able to stem the Drua's momentum, and then put the squeeze on the home side after the break to emerge 27-24 winners.

Still, it took nothing away from what was a brilliant - and long overdue - moment for Fijian rugby.

The Drua will have another chance to find a win on home soil when they host the Chiefs in Lautoka in the final round of the regular season.

V for victory, and Valetini

After back-to-back wins over New Zealand opposition, there is little doubt the Brumbies can push for the Super Rugby Pacific title. They have tougher tests to come before the finals, but on the strength of their wins over the Highlanders and Hurricanes, it's clear Dan McKellar's side are capable of mixing it with the Blues and Crusaders.

On a glorious afternoon in Canberra, the Brumbies pulled away from the Hurricanes in the second half, using their maul to devastating effect while also proving they can score in other ways with Jahrome Brown finishing off a superb sequence from a scrum that also featured Irae Simone and Tom Wright.

But it was a piece of individual brilliance from Rob Valetini that stole the show, and again reinforced the fact that the Brumbies back-rower has become one of the finest players in Australian rugby.

After Andy Muirhead had quickly jumped on a loose Hurricanes pass, the ball was shifted to Scott Sio and then onto Valetini, who kicked ahead from right on the halfway line. With no one at the back for the visitors, it became a straight foot race to the bouncing ball between the Brumbies back-rower and the Hurricanes Jackson Garden-Bachop and Xavier Numia.

With all three players lunging with outstretched arms for the ball, Valetini was able to just touch down ahead of Numia, who could only graze the front of the ball, resulting in a try to the Brumbies and another personal highlight for the Wallabies back-rower.

"I was pretty shocked actually to get there, I thought I was going to see someone come from the side or come through, but I got a shock at the tryline there when nobody was there and luckily I got it," Valetini told Stan Sport.

"[I was thinking] probably just kick long and try and make a tackle, and then back our D [defence].

"I had a quick glance up there and saw that no one was at the back there, and, yeah, I got it."

Gordon makes pivotal play for Rebels

Season 2022 hasn't exactly gone to plan for young Rebels playmaker Carter Gordon. After starting the opening match of the season against the Reds, Carter was quickly benched for Matt To'omua in the No. 10 shirt.

But after the veteran inside back suffered a head knock against the Crusaders last week, Gordon was once again handed the reins of the Rebels for their match against Moana Pasifika.

And the youngster enjoyed a solid game as the Rebels held on in a thriller, his biggest play coming just as it looked like the visitors would set up a grandstand finish in the 73rd minute as Lincoln McClutchie sprinted towards the left-hand corner.

But tracking the Moana replacement from the inside was Gordon, the Rebels fly-half making one last desperate dive to dislodge the ball from McClutchie's right arm just as he was about to touch down.

While Moana scored four minutes later to ensure they did have one final chance at victory, Gordon's effort at least cut down the time the visitors had to finish over the top. And he was rightfully swamped by ecstatic teammates immediately after his big play.

Gamble gets better every week

It's hard to imagine Charlie Gamble playing suburban rugby. But, that's exactly where his journey first began in Sydney, after he answered an ad from Petersham Rugby Club not knowing the team wasn't even in the Shute Shield.

Fast forward a few years and the former Crusaders Academy player has established himself as key cog in the Waratahs' resurgence, adding a man-of-the-match showing against the team he had supported throughout his childhood for good measure.

Gamble was outstanding yet again at Leichhardt Oval, making 17 tackles and running for 28 metres on 10 carries. But it is over the ball where he is doing the most damage, the back-rower icing the Waratahs win with a vital penalty at the breakdown just when it looked like the Crusaders might steal the game despite having 13 men on the field.

"He's just a weapon, Charlie, every week," Waratahs coach Darren Coleman said. "There hasn't been a dip yet; you think a guy in his first full Super year after four or five weeks of adrenalin, they'll start to dip, but there's no signs of slowing. He's getting better if anything."

With Michael Hooper suffering a head knock late in the Waratahs' win over the Crusaders, Gamble can slot seamlessly back into the No. 7 jersey if the Wallabies skipper does not navigate the concussion protocols.


Red cards spike again

After only one red card during Super Round, for which Angus Bell later suffered no further sanction, there was one again a spike in the number of dangerous tackles over the weekend.

And Rebels centre Ray Nu'u and Crusaders forward Hamish Dalzell certainly have work to do on their technique after they were guilty of terrible tackles on Christian Leali'ifano and Michael Hooper respectively.

Dalzell's effort was made even more unfathomable given he had only moments earlier been the subject of a lengthy TMO review for a similar tackle. But his collision with Hooper was sickening, and with no drop in bodyheight it was entirely necessary that Dalzell was handed a red card.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson admitted Dalzell had work to do on his technique.

"It's such an interesting and difficult one to judge on, every [tackle] is so different, and there is no clear line," Robertson said. "But obviously [Dalzell's] tackle technique needs to get better, I know that. He's a big man and could have done better around it.

"And it's a bit disappointing for Hoops to take that head knock; there was no malice in it but it was definitely technically poor."

Nu'u, meanwhile, could be in some serious trouble for his ugly hit on Leali'ifano. Given the Rebels centre has already had one suspension this season, and had his ban reduced by a week for completing World Rugby's high tackle education process, Nu'u should expect an extended stint on the sidelines.

And he is entirely deserving of such a sanction, too, as his tackle on Leali'ifano was really as bad as it can get. Nu'u's Super Rugby Pacific season is likely done for 2022.

All Blacks rest weeks irk Robertson

Would the result have been different if Richie Mo'unga, Ethan Blackadder and Braydon Ennor had been on the field at Leichhardt Oval? We'll never know, but the Crusaders could have certainly used Mo'unga's guiding hand in what was a poor first half against the Waratahs.

All three men were serving their All Blacks rest weeks, although the requirement of Mo'unga to still be fulfilling the wishes of All Blacks management in some ways seems misguided given he also sat out the opening two weeks of the competition.

"It's just part of footy and coaching a Super Rugby team," a diplomatic Robertson replied when asked whether he regretted the decision to rest the three players.

If he'd left it at that, no one would have raised an eyebrow at all. But walking out of the press conference, a frustrated Robertson added "it's not my call, mate."

The situation is nothing new in New Zealand but it certainly doesn't make it any easier to cop with each changing season. And Robertson likely won't be happy should the Crusaders miss the opportunity to host a home semifinal by three competition points or less.