Super Rugby AU Round 1 review: Trial laws offer something different

Rugby returned at long last in Australia over the weekend, as Super Rugby AU kicked off before small and socially-distanced crowds in Brisbane and Canberra.

There were wins for the Reds and Brumbies, but both contests weren't decided until the final minutes in what was a promising start for the fledgling competition.

Read on for some of the major talking points from the weekend's action.


After all the talk of a new competition, with new trial laws, as part of a new era for Australian rugby, Super Rugby AU finally got underway in Brisbane on Friday night. But the opening play, almost inevitably, lasted just five seconds, before, yes, that's right, a scrum was set.

Thankfully it took little more than 30 seconds for that set-piece to take place, and set in motion a Reds scrum that monstered its opponents all night, before the game itself seemed to flow a little better than what we've come to expect from Australian derbies over the past decade.

Sure, there was plenty of dropped ball and the whistle of referee Nick Berry was ever-present -- so too his counterpart Angus Gardner in Saturday night's match between the Brumbies and Rebels -- but it was pleasing to see the pre-match banter, of which there had been plenty, actually develop into a decent spectacle that included plenty of running rugby, and where fatigue came into the match towards the final siren.

Reds skipper Liam Wright proudly declared the contest had been of "State of Origin" intensity when interviewed at fulltime.

And the 50/22 and goal-line dropout law trials also came into effect, with the Reds getting the rewards on each occasion.

Scrum-half Tate McDermott was the first to execute a 50/22 kick, a clever bouncing box-kick brought about by some solid Waratahs defence more than anything else, but one that suddenly put the Reds right on the attack. The second instance saw the Reds clear their own line with a kick that found space by the right touchline, and then took a couple of favourable bounces to beat Jack Maddocks into touch.

Neither kick was probably executed amid the environment the lawmakers hope will create more space in the wider channels, but there was no doubting the 50/22 and 22/50 kicks gave the contest a little something extra.

So too did the threat of the goal-line dropout rather than the usual 22m restart or five-metre scrum. The big winner here was the time saved.

When Reds goal-kicker Bryce Hegarty missed shots at goal, the Waratahs fielded the kicks and immediately charged out from their own goal-line to clear back downfield.

There was no foxing within the in-goal and then the usual passing across the 22m line, seeking the opportunity for a short drop-out, which merely drains seconds from the clock. Nope, with Maddocks' booming boot, the ball was soon well back downfield and play ready to restart with a lineout.

And then there was the goal-line dropout brought about by what could become one of the most intriguing selection battles to come to the next Rugby World Cup.

Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper may have seen the last of David Pocock and the debate that dominated the duo's time at Test level together -- that there was an imbalance when they both started in the back-row -- but just as one No. 7 has departed, there is a new player on the scene.

Fraser McReight had made a number of appearances off the bench earlier in the season, but the 21-year-old former Australia Under 20s captain certainly made the most of his first start on Friday night. McReight was an ever-present threat at the breakdown in an all-out Reds back-row assault that got the better of their Waratahs counterparts, was busy in defence with eight tackles, and then produced the kind of chase-and-tackle effort that coaches love.

While there was debate around whether it should have resulted in a five-metre scrum or goal-line dropout, McReight's tackle on Hooper behind the Waratahs' goal-line was a window to the new selection battle that will play out in the run to France. McReight's inclusion had pushed skipper Liam Wright to No. 6 but it did little to diminish his game, while No. 8 Harry Wilson virtually picked up where he had left off earlier in the year as one of Super Rugby's standout players.

On the whole, the Reds deserved their 32-26 victory. There was just enough to be excited about the brand of rugby Super Rugby AU might provide, particularly as players adapt to renewed focus on the breakdown laws, and it certainly set up a juicy return clash in Sydney later this year.

Saturday night's match between the Brumbies and Rebels took a little while longer to come to life, as both sides adjusted to Gardner's interpretations.

But with two tries in five minutes the Rebels did at least make a game of it inside the final quarter, leaving the Brumbies to fall back on their ever-reliable rolling maul to get the win.


Jack Maddocks has had to wait a while to play fullback. At the Rebels he was stuck behind Dane Haylett-Petty, while a move to Sydney this year presented a Kurtley Beale-sized hurdle.

But with the Wallabies veteran exiting stage left during the shutdown, Maddocks was given first crack in the custodian role for the Waratahs. And he didn't disappoint.

Maddocks ran for a match-high 139 metres at Suncorp, reminded everyone of his booming right boot with a series of metre-eating clearing kicks, and also provided the moment of the match in a superb running line that put him under the posts for five points.

Running from behind the ruck, Maddocks exploded onto a perfect inside pass from Lachie Swinton to ice a set move that would have earned applause from even the most one-eyed Reds fan.

He may be trailing Tom Banks and Dane Haylett-Petty for a start as the Wallabies fullback, but more performances like the one from Friday night will have Maddocks firmly on Dave Rennie's radar.


Just as intriguing as the fullback battle will be who Rennie throws into the Wallabies No. 10 jersey when, hopefully, Test rugby is played this year.

Noah Lolesio had put himself in the reckoning with a series of strong displays earlier in the year, and it was obvious on Saturday just what those first six games had done for his confidence.

The Brumbies No. 10 had the better of Matt To'omua at GIO Stadium and guided his team around as well as could have been hoped as the game struggled for continuity under Gardner's whistle.

But it was a left-foot step, fend and speed that put Tom Wright over early in the second half that really should have people excited and reflects just how far the 20-year-old has already come this year.

It's true, his goal-kicking remains a concern. But Lolesio at least appeared to be striking the ball a little cleaner off the tee in Canberra on Saturday night.

The good news from a Wallabies perspective is that Rennie has four genuine options to consider at No. 10. In To'omua and the Reds' James O'Connor, who calmly stepped up and slotted two vital penalties in Brisbane, Rennie has proven Test players with loads of experience; which might be the safest bet for a four-game Bledisloe series in October and November.

But Lolesio and Waratahs counterpart Will Harrison represent the longer-term future, youngsters who are yet to be crushed by the long trans-Tasman losing streak. And for whom the next seven games of Super Rugby AU present the platform to reach the next level.