With another week in the books, Aussie rugby fans were given a real look at the contenders and pretenders.
It was another week of wet weather rugby, but you wouldn't have suspected it with the way the Brumbies and Force played on Saturday night in Sydney. The Brumbies kept a clean sheet in an impressive display, holding off a determined Force side.
On Friday night, the Waratahs reverted back to their early season struggles as their discipline disappeared, while the Rebels stood up to end their four-year drought in Sydney.
Read on for some of the major talking points from the weekend's action.
SUPER RUGBY AU TITLE THE BRUMBIES' TO LOSE?
After their dominance in the early Super Rugby season, the Brumbies were the clear favourites entering Super Rugby AU. But after they were pushed by the Rebels in Round 1 and their set piece showed signs of weakness that hadn't been seen in years against the Waratahs last week, some began to think perhaps the title race would be tighter than first imagined. The Brumbies' performance on Saturday put all those thoughts to bed.
In the wet in Sydney on Saturday, the Brumbies -- and the Force - would have been forgiven if they reverted to an all-out kicking game and kept the ball in close - especially without fly-half Noah Lolesio. Instead, they played their natural game plan; they kept the ball in hand, spread the ball and used their attacking backline to their fullest.
Their second-minute try demonstrated just how classy and devastating the Brumbies can be - Pete Samu picking the ball up from the back of the scrum in the Brumbies 22, bumping off Nick Frisby, eating up metres on the blindside before flicking it to Joe Powell who found his support players as he raced down the left wing. The ball was sent to Rob Valentini, then Tevita Kuridrani, before it finally found Tom Wright who ran away for the try. In seconds the Brumbies had gone 70 metres down field and were five-nil up.
Four minutes later, they'd done the same again. Back inside their 22, on the counter after Lachie Miller snatched the ball at the breakdown, the Brumbies kept it simple; spreading the ball through the hands before Samu took it straight to the defenders, bumped off one before flicking it to Wright on the left wing. After a nice little dummy, Wright gave it inside to Powell who flicked it to another support runner in Irae Simone.
As Phil Kearns said in commentary: "what was brilliant here was just the simplicity. How long have we talked about this? Straight running and accurate passing - the ball in front of the man every single time so the player can run onto the pill".
It sounds obvious, but Kearns is right. It was simple but accurate play and it's what makes the Brumbies so dangerous. They take their chances in broken play and punish any mistakes from the opposition.
Players across the park stepped up to put the Force to the sword; Samu, Kuenzle, Irae Simone and Wright were especially impressive.
I'll touch on Samu and Kuenzle down the page, but Simone has truly come into his own at the Brumbies and made the inside centre jersey his own. His hard running was hard to stop on Saturday and his boot -- which he has clearly worked extremely hard on -- put the Brumbies in several position of advantage. It was his work kicking two magnificent 50/22s that put the Brumbies on the front foot several times.
Wright was at his spectacular best as well and was close to earning himself a double in just the opening minutes. His performances so far this year have turned heads and his work at Leichhardt Oval would have sent a message to Wallabies coach Dave Rennie that he's more than ready for the next step. He was constantly looking for work, put ran some impressive lines, finishing the match with a match-high 131 run metres.
Although their set piece still wasn't as clinical as we've seen it previously -- they dropped two lineouts and copped some scrum penalties early on - their all-Wallabies front row still turned it on at scrum time. Pinned back in their own 22 and facing pressure from the Force, the Brumbies won the short arm at the scrum before they won the penalty and again all the pressure was back on the Force. It was the building block to their hammering win.
What was just as impressive, if not more so, than their attacking prowess was the defence. Conceding two tries last week, the Brumbies' defence stepped up again this week, keeping a clean sheet despite the many attacking raids on their line.
"That's the most pleasing part is our defence," Dan McKellar said post match. "We spoke today about fronting up the physicality from a defensive point of view. We had a few tough calls there for a period, where we were under the pump, but we adjusted and sorted out our discipline."
If Saturday's performance is anything to go by, the Super Rugby AU title is the Brumbies' to lose.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME: PETE SAMU
He was perhaps one of the unluckiest players in Australian rugby when he missed out on selection for the 2019 Rugby World Cup and although Reds' No.8 Harry Wilson has been making waves, Samu seems to have been on a mission in 2020 to prove how wrong that selection was.
From the opening minute Samu was in the mix. It was his work at the back of the scrum in the opening minute that saw the Brumbies over the line after 90 seconds on the pitch. It was him again in the sixth minute, straightening up and punching through the Force defence and setting up the side's second try.
His foot work off the line and his ability to break through the defensive line has always been an impressive feature of his game, but his work on Saturday -- finishing the match with 44 metres run, two line breaks and three defenders beaten -- will have people talking as the Wallabies line-up starts to be discussed.
BAYLEY KUENZLE, ANOTHER NO. 10 TO ADD TO AUSSIE STOCKS
There was no razzle dazzle, but there was plenty of smart simple play from Bayley Kuenzle who made his first start for the Brumbies on Saturday night.
After plenty of pre-season chatter with the battle between Noah Lolesio and Kuenzle for the Brumbies' No. 10 jersey, we finally got our first glimpse of the 22-year-old last week when Lolesio came from the pitch injured. This week we were given a full match to see just where he sits alongside the many young Aussie playmakers coming through the system.
Kuenzle showed he was plenty capable, leading his pack around the park with authority and McKellar labelled his performance as "solid". He ran the ball hard, his support play was impressive and he didn't shirk his duties in defence
Only young, he still has plenty of work to do to grow and refine his game at fly-half, but the shoots are looking promising and Aussie teams will be fighting for his signature in coming years.
WARATAHS THE ULTIMATE PRETENDERS?
The Waratahs have never looked the full package in 2020, but in Round 2 and 3 they began to show potential and promise with their defence sharpening up and their attack finding some rhythm. Friday night however, they reverted to the undisciplined mess we witnessed earlier in the year.
They were hardly blown off the field by the Rebels, but they were by the referee as they sat on the wrong side of the 17-10 penalty count. They played themselves out of the game and they were punished for it.
In perhaps one of his worst performances of the year, Michael Hooper was constantly pinged coming from the side at the breakdown and found himself offside several times. He was sent to the naughty chair before the first half was even over after he found himself on the wrong side of Angus Gardner.
The Tahs finished the match a man down again after Jed Holloway was given the cheese after just a minute on the pitch. Perhaps undeserving of taking the punishment following his teams terrible discipline, Holloway had already been pinged after just a minute on the pitch.
Struggling to hold any possession, the Waratahs fell into the trap of mindless kicking, multiple times giving the ball away midfield, while they missed over 30 tackles. They were constantly beaten up front and accuracy across the pitch was poor.
With just one win in four matches, higher standards must be expected.
CLUB RUGBY: GOOD BLOKE TAF, DOES GOOD BLOKE THINGS
It may not be Super Rugby AU related, but a good rugby story can't be ignored -- especially after months of doom and gloom.
Returning to Australia following a stint in the UK, former Wallabies hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau returned straight to his beloved club rugby side the Western Two Blues and his impact with the club has already been felt.
Playing for fourth grade in Round 1 last weekend and scoring a try in the final minutes, Taf returned on Saturday to play Gordon at Chatswood Oval. But it's not his feats on the field that have impressed so many, it's his commitment to the club off the field.
When the last game of the day at 4.50pm needs a linesman, who runs out without being asked?— Two Blues Rugby (@WSTwoBlues) July 25, 2020
The guy who played the very first game of the day that morning at 10.50am who also happens to be an 80+ test Wallaby, the epitome of club rugby.
Thanks Taf 🙏 pic.twitter.com/Xc1aZeeAk0
After arriving at Chatswood for the first game of the day as early as 10am, Taf stayed through the day and watched every match, even as his beloved club suffered heavy losses in every grade. At 4:50pm, when it came time for the women's match, and there was no linesman with the rain pouring down, who should you see running the touch? Taf.
Throughout the day he chatted with young fans, opposition players, took photos and finished the day making sure the women's game took place without a hitch.
It's a simple reminder there's still plenty of good guys in Australian rugby.