Super Rugby TT R4: Late drama adds intrigue as Rennie drops Wallabies pointers

There is just one round of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman to come after the Crusaders, Blues and Highlanders each recorded wins to remain unbeaten.

But there was a second Australian victory for the competition as the Brumbies edged the Hurricanes in Canberra. The Rebels also had their chances against the Chiefs, but some leaky defence and ineffective work at the breakdown ensured the visitors came away with the win at "home", despite the match having been moved to Leichhardt Oval in Sydney.

Read on as we review some of the big talking points from the weekend's action.

BARRETT'S BLOWN PENALTIES OPEN DOOR FOR HIGHLANDERS, CRUSADERS

Despite the lopsided nature of the collective Trans-Tasman ledger, it was likely that some drama would eventuate over the competition's closing weeks.

As Australia's teams settled back into life against Kiwi opposition, they would slowly rediscover the physicality and intensity needed to be competitive against each of the Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

And that was certainly the case in Round 4 as both the Force and Brumbies shook up the competition, and late drama ensued to ensure that this weekend's fifth and final regular season round will still hold plenty of intrigue.

First up on Friday, the Force produced one of their best performances since their return to Super Rugby to deny the Crusaders what at that time looked like being a vital bonus point. The visitors had enough possession and territorial dominance to have won the contest, but as has been the case since their readmission, they just lack those one or two game-breakers. And they certainly weren't helped by the loss of in-form winger Toni Pulu, either.

But that should do little to diminish what was a rousing performance at a venue where few people had given them any hope of victory, and the bookmakers had installed a line of 37.5 points. And the late try to Jordan Olowefela was nothing short of what they deserved, the five-pointer coming from a smart "eyes up" play from skipper Kyle Godwin who recognized the space in behind the Crusaders from a turnover and dropped in a perfect kick for Olowefela to chase through and score.

The try sucked the life out of Orangetheory Stadium, as it now meant the Crusaders had missed two bonus points and their chances of appearing in the tournament decider seemed to be slipping away.

But the Crusaders were given a reprieve on Saturday night when the Hurricanes slipped to only the second New Zealand loss of the competition, a 12-10 defeat by the Brumbies in Canberra.

The visitors had two opportunities to win the match but Jordie Barrett failed to nail either of the two penalty kicks he had inside the last two minutes. Having pulled the first one to the left of the posts, Barrett pushed his second shot wide of the right upright to cue joyous scenes at a chilly GIO Stadium.

The Hurricanes' loss suddenly brought the Highlanders and Crusaders right back into finals contention with the two South Island outfits fearing they had blown their chances by not collecting the attacking bonus point on two occasions.

As it stands, the Blues sit one point clear at the top of the ladder and will be favourites to at least make the final given they host the Force in Round 5 and also boast a 109-point differential.

Behind the Blues on 18 points are the Highlanders and Crusaders, who boast 82- and 71-point differentials. But it is the Crusaders who would appear to hold the easier Round 5 assignment, away to the Rebels, as the Highlanders have to travel to Canberra to face the Brumbies.

Whatever the case, both the Crusaders and Blues will know exactly where they stand when they run out on Saturday with the Brumbies-Highlanders showdown set for Friday night. All that will be left once the Auckland fixture is done will be to see if the Waratahs can somehow find a first win for 2021, against the Chiefs at Brookvale Oval.

Having conceded more than 50 points for the fourth time this year over the weekend, that looks very unlikely.

RENNIE GIVES INSIGHTS INTO WALLABIES SQUAD

Dave Rennie will name his Wallabies squad for the three-Test series with France next Sunday, but the Test coach gave further insights into his thinking ahead of the Rebels-Chiefs game at Leichhardt Oval.

Rennie discussed a few troublesome positions with the Stan Sport panel, again referencing hooker as one position where the selectors' thinking remained clouded. The Wallabies coach did however name-drop Lachlan Lonergan, Feleti Kaitu'u and Brandon Paenga-Amosa.

Paenga-Amosa's potential inclusion would be curious for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as Rennie mentioned, the Reds hooker is heading overseas later this year, which all but rules him out of selection moving forward. And secondly, the Reds hooker had only two days earlier endured a horror night at lineout time as Queensland lost set-piece after set-piece to see their hopes of victory against the Blues slowly slip away.

While Paenga-Amosa is seen as one of Australia's best scrummaging hookers who also does great work at the breakdown, his lineout throwing has long been a problem. If the Wallabies are to beat France, and then push for the Rugby Championship crown, they need to be winning no less than 90 percent of their own lineout ball.

Elsewhere Rennie mentioned Waratahs centre Izaia Perese, as one player who was not included in the April squad, who was now likely pushing for inclusion this time around, the Wallabies boss confirming that the midfield thinking was also far from solidified.

Do the Wallabies go for a second playmaker style of No. 12 in Matt To'omua or perhaps shift Hunter Paisami, whose own playmaking skills continue to broaden, so that they can include the likes of Paisami or equally impressive Len Ikitau?

There appears to be opportunity to investigate both potential midfield setups given the three French Tests will be played inside 11 days.

NAISARANI STANDS TALL AS REBELS ROOKIE AGAIN CATCHES THE EYE

Isi Naisarani picked a good day to produce his best performance of 2021.

With Rennie watching on from the Leichhardt Oval stands, the Rebels No. 8 was back to his bullocking best not seen for much of the past couple of years as he tore open the heart of the Chiefs' defence with a series of damaging runs and smart offloads.

While Naisarani's work at the back of a tighthead scrum pushover try was excellent, it was the fight he showed for his second try on Sunday afternoon that really will have impressed Rennie. Running onto a quick tap close to the line, Naisarani showed great leg drive and determination to wrestle him arm free and ground the ball.

Rennie is also big on "repeat efforts" and players getting back to their feet quickly to up their involvements, and Naisarani also did that against the Chiefs as he put up a total of 17 runs for 88 metres; that was six more carries than any other of his Rebels teammates.

Naisarani is certainly behind Harry Wilson in the Wallabies' No. 8 pecking order, but if he can repeat Sunday's performance this weekend against the Crusaders then Rennie and his fellow Wallabies selectors will find it incredibly difficult to overlook him as they did earlier this year.

One player whose name won't be read out is Carter Gordon, the rookie Rebels No. 10 who is just a few games into his Super Rugby career. But he is undoubtedly a player to watch in the future, and someone who can join the growing list of talented Australian No. 10s.

Gordon had several excellent moments against the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon, but none more so than his superb kick-and-regather that put Stacey Ili over. Best of all was the final pass back inside to Ili that had the two covering Chiefs defenders grasping at thin air.

The Rebels also appear to be attacking with greater purpose under interim coach Kevin Foote, something Gordon clearly seems to be relishing. So often happy to play defensively under Dave Wessels during Super Rugby AU, the Rebels suddenly appear to be a team with plenty of points in them.

On the flipside, they continue to leak plenty of points themselves which isn't good news for a Highlanders team that will be hoping the Rebels can do them a favour and at least deny the Crusaders a bonus point back at Leichhardt next Saturday.