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Five things we learned: Aussies given early Super Rugby warning, Lolesio's timely reminder

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26th February, 2024
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There might have only been one trans-Tasman fixture over the weekend, but Australian rugby was given an intimidating reminder of what is coming in 2024.

It wasn’t just the shellacking the Force copped against the Hurricanes, but the derby that kicked off the season between the Chiefs and Crusaders.

Despite the Chiefs losing several starting forwards and the Crusaders farewelling arguably the two most successful Super Rugby players ever (Sam Whitelock and Richie Mo’unga) as well as the competition’s greatest coach Scott Robertson, last year’s finalists put on a show.

Played in lovely conditions, both sides showcased running rugby at its finest while displaying an incredible amount of physicality.

Damian McKenzie was a case in point.

The Chiefs playmaker, who is a man on a mission to try and convince new All Blacks coach Robertson that he is a Test quality fly-half and not simply an awesome utility back, would get rocked to the core in the opening 40 minutes and then take the Crusaders’ defence to the cleaners with his vision and pace.

It’s that aspect that Australian sides have failed to cope with over the past decade, which was showcased by the Hurricanes blowing away the Force in every aspect of the match on Friday night.


Indeed, it’s the missing hardness that Eddie Jones was speaking of during his final days as Wallabies coach during his rare moment of candidness.

The other local derby not being spoken about as much either is the Highlanders’ win over Moana Pasifika.

Neither side will push for the trophy at the end of the season, but the skill, pace and physicality on display in Dunedin ensured the opening weekend of Super Rugby was a memorable one.

The Highlanders’ back-row trio Sean Withy, Billy Harmon and Hugh Renton ensured the home side got across the line, while Pari Pari Parkinson, who was a tad fortunate not to be sent to the sin bin early, brought the necessary hardness to compete in the competition.


Keep an eye on Highlanders fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, who might be a mouthful but looks to finally be the replacement the franchise have long wanted in the No.15 jersey since Ben Smith left in 2019.

Next weekend’s Super Round, where there will be three trans-Tasman fixtures, will give a strong indication of whether Australia will have another side other than the Brumbies who can compete in the tournament.

The Reds will take on the Hurricanes, while Rob Penney, who was sacked by the Waratahs early in his second season in charge, will take on his former franchise. The Brumbies will also play the Chiefs.


Noah Lolesio dropped out of the Wallabies conversation last year under Eddie Jones.

But the 23-year-old delivered a timely reminder to Joe Schmidt and Rugby Australia officials as he enters the final year of his contract.

The Brumbies will be desperate to keep Lolesio, but much will depend on whether he receives a national top-up. If he doesn’t, he could be lost to Australian rugby.


That might not hurt the Wallabies as much as the Super Rugby competition, but heading into his fifth season of professional rugby, it’s only now that we should be starting to see him flourish and enter the national conversation.

Lolesio certainly outplayed his opposite Carter Gordon.

Noah Lolesio delivered a timely showing for the Brumbies during their big win over the Rebels at AAMI Park on February 23, 2024, in Melbourne. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Where Gordon missed an early simple shot at three points and later touch from a penalty, Lolesio was sharp and took the ball to the line.

His decision to play the short side to set up Corey Toole was first class.

It’s not like the Rebels’ pack was beaten either.

They had plenty of chances and front-foot ball, particularly when Taniela Tupou entered the fray after half-time, but Gordon was quieter than hoped.


Over in the west, Ben Donaldson had an unconvincing first display in the Force jersey.

It wasn’t easy playing behind a beaten forward pack, but when Donaldson started running the ball more in the second half he looked better. As did Max Burey, who will give Simon Cron much to ponder given his acceleration.

In Brisbane, Tom Lynagh was solid on a greasy night after evening rain while Harry McLaughlin-Phillips was sprightly off the bench.

The Waratahs, meanwhile, struggled to find any real rhythm in their attack.


With their future hanging in the balance after falling into voluntary administration, the Rebels didn’t help themselves on Friday night against the Brumbies.

Needing a strong performance to try and change the narrative, the Rebels sunk even lower by delivering a deeply disappointing display.


After two promising trial matches, the Rebels dropped the ball on the field as their skill sets let them down.

The Rebels had 16 entries into the Brumbies’ 22m zone yet managed just three points. That’s inexcusable.

Rob Leota was left seething following his side’s poor execution against the Brumbies. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Once again, the lineout was their Achilles heel.

Jordan Uelese, who was taken to last year’s World Cup because of his broad shoulders and ability to scrum, was the main offender with his throw letting him down again.

He wasn’t alone in making clumsy mistakes, with Vaiolini Ekusai stupidly grabbing hold of Tom Hooper’s jersey not once but twice as his teammate and captain Rob Leota charged to the line to score.

The moment of madness not only denied the Rebels a second-half surge but summed up their head-shaking performance a week out from hosting Super Round.



Charlie Cale’s marvellous try against the Rebels put himself on the Super Rugby map, but his back-row teammate Luke Reimer made an even bigger statement.

Behind a quality back-row featuring Rob Valetini and Pete Samu last year, breakdown specialist Reimer was largely limited to game-changing moments off the bench.

Now with Samu gone, Reimer has arrived. Fraser McReight watch out.

Luke Reimer is expected to get big minutes in the No.7 jersey for the Brumbies following Pete Samu’s departure to France. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

The 23-year-old could well be the best breakdown exponent in Australian rugby already.

It’s not just how often he manages to pinch the ball, but the timing of it too.


Reimer swings matches with his timing.

That can be easier when matches get more open later in games, but what will encourage Stephen Larkham is that for the first time as a starter, he did it from the outset.


Off the back of their busy work in the transfer market, many were quietly optimistic about the Force in 2024. They still might be proven right.

But, for that to be the case, they’ve got to fix up their set-piece struggles otherwise they’ll have no chance.

Against the Hurricanes, the Brumbies’ scrum largely struggled and their lineout crumbled.

Cron wasn’t helped by losing Izack Rodda and new skipper Jeremey Williams, as well as loose-head prop Harry Hoopert, but their absence highlighted the raw underbelly of Australian rugby.


Marley Peace, who was cited for a high tackle in the second half after failing to drop his body height, will develop into a strong prop, but the 20-year-old isn’t ready yet to start at loose-head prop week-in, week out.

The struggles up front also meant they didn’t get the front-foot ball they wanted for their new halves pairing.

If they don’t manage to rectify it against the Rebels, it could be another long night for them in Melbourne during Super Round.

Christy Doran’s Australian team of the week

Alex Hodgman, Matt Faessler, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Nick Frost, Seru Uru, Rob Valetini, Luke Reimer, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott, Noah Lolesio, Corey Toole, Hunter Paisami, Josh Flook, Dylan Pietsch, Andrew Kellaway.