Super -- Not So Super -- Rugby R6: Donaldson error defining play of Brumbies-Tahs thriller

Another weekend, another Round of Super Rugby Pacific in the books.

With the competition's byes about to start, Round 6 was an important weekend for many teams as the ladder continues to take shape - and there looks like there will be a very real scrap for the final couple of places in the top eight.

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


Easily the game of the round and best Australian derby of the season; okay, the Brumbies-Waratahs thriller in Canberra might even have topped the Blues-Crusaders classic from Round 4 as the game of the year.

Yes, it was that good.

Eleven tries and 76 points; a prop scoring a double; the nation's brightest young talent showing the raps on him are well and truly deserved; I mean what more could you want?

If you're the Waratahs, then the answer to that question is the four competition points, something they missed out on when Jack Debreczeni threw a sweeping pass to an open Corey Toole for the game's defining try.

But to those watching on at GIO Stadium or back at home on television, there was little more a supporter could have asked for as both sides enjoyed moments of sparkling attacking play.

While incumbent Wallabies skipper James Slipper's double -- and near hat trick -- was the headline act for the home side, it was the play of Waratahs rookie Max Jorgensen and the thought of how he, Mark Nawaqanitawase and Joseph Suaali'i could all combine in the future, that meant NSW could afford the smallest of smiles on a night that otherwise ended in devastating fashion.

With the Waratahs attacking from deep inside their own half, Jorgensen drifted out on a superb line to get outside Ben O'Donnell and then beat Corey Toole, before he drew fullback Tom Wright to put Lalakai Foketi over for a five-pointer early in the second half.

A short while later Nawaqanatiwase did it all himself after a smart Jake Gordon snipe down the short side, the winger chipping over the top and regathering to score in the corner.

Unfortunately for NSW, those two plays amounted to only an eventual bonus point, with one grave late error allowing the Brumbies to claim an eleventh straight win over their local rivals.

But more on that later.


Injuries are a part of rugby, but they always seem to hurt that little bit more in World Cup years. Last time around it was Damian McKenzie whose Webb Ellis dreams were shattered in New Zealand, but four years on it is Sevu Reece who has already been scratched from the tournament.

The Crusaders' winger's ACL injury -- which was the result of an ugly cleanout by Rieko Ioane a fortnight ago -- may have however opened up an opportunity for his Crusaders teammate Leicester Fainga'anuku who is more in the blockbusting, tackle-shredding category than Reece's sharp feet and explosive acceleration.

Fainga'anuku has been no less effective this season however, and that continued in the Crusaders' 25-12 win over the Reds on Friday night.

Fainga'anuku opened the try-scoring at Suncorp Stadium when he ran into a yawning gap off an inside pass from Richie Mo'unga, stepping fullback Jock Campbell on his way to the line.

He finished with nine runs for 82 metres, with one clean break and six beaten defenders on a night when the visitors gave up a massive 532 total running metres but were still able to thwart the Reds with clutch final defence and robust breakdown work.

And Fainga'anuku did just that as the Reds chased a bonus point late on, the winger hammering Fraser McReight into touch as the flanker tried desperately to force his way over in the corner.

Fainga'anuku made his Test debut against Ireland last year but was barely sighted thereafter. While there are concerns about his ability under the high ball, it is impossible to deny what he offers on the carry.


Still in Queensland, there was a moment on Friday night that perhaps best exemplified exactly where the Reds are at; or at least the lack of confidence and execution they are currently playing with.

They have some excellent performers, no doubt, and on Friday night that list was headed by Jordan Petaia, who was included in Eddie Jones' Wallabies training squad, and Harry Wilson, who was not despite an incredible 18 runs and 102 metres.

But the passage of play that best summed up the Reds came late in the second half as they attempted to bridge the gap with the Crusaders, or at least get within seven to earn a bonus point.

Trailing by 13 points with 13 minutes to play, the Reds curiously opted to take a shot at goal rather than kick to the corner from a penalty 20 metres out from the Crusaders' line and just to the left of the posts.

Having not kicked for goal all game, James O'Connor stepped up and promptly hit the posts; the Crusaders grabbing the ricochet and kicking out to touch back out on the 22.

The opportunity was not completely lost from there, with the Reds still having the chance to rumble a lineout drive forward and apply pressure to the Crusaders' line. And they did just that for multiple phases, before O'Connor then dropped an aimless kick in behind that was far too heavy and soon rolled dead.

The sequence just about summed up the Reds night perfectly. Queensland played more of the rugby, but lacked the execution and control to really ever put the Crusaders under serious heat.


It was an explosive start in Hamilton as competition big dogs the Chiefs and Blues both grabbed tries inside the opening quarter on Saturday night.

The Blues, however, should have had at least another five points and potentially seven after Beauden Barrett skipped through the hosts' defensive line after a sustained build-up, pivoted, and set course to try and improve his own kicking position.

But just as he tip-toed close to the dead-ball line, a desperate Tupou Vaa'i lunged and did just enough to nick Barrett's leg and force him to put his left foot touch-in-goal.

It was an inexcusable play from Barrett, a player with more than 100 Tests of international experience who had had more than enough time to dot the ball down safely.

Fortunately the Blues had been playing under advantage, from which they then called for a scrum for, won another penalty, and went to the set-piece once again. From there they shifted the Chiefs defence to one side of the field and back to the other, with winger Caleb Clarke cutting back on the angle to score and really save Barrett's bacon.

Still, it was an uncharacteristic error from a two-time World Rugby Player of the Year, Barrett also having an off night with the boot as he shanked his first two conversion attempts.

With Richie Mo'unga heavily favoured to wear the No. 10 jersey for the All Blacks at the World Cup, and both Damian McKenzie and Shaun Stevenson enjoying fine seasons, Barrett's somewhat mediocre start to 2023 might well have the veteran fly-half slipping down the playmaking or bench utility stocks.


Saturday night's game at GIO Stadium was so good that it pains us to have to isolate one of the few glaring errors from the entire 80 minutes.

But such was Ben Donaldson's poor execution, and the fact that the Brumbies turned his error into seven points, that it simply can't be left untouched.

Donaldson had kicked his side back into the lead at 36-35 with seven minutes to play in the topsy-turvy encounter while Michael Hooper was in the sin bin; but the Waratahs then shelled the restart with Ned Hanigan unable to hang onto what was a perfect kick from Jack Debreczeni.

But when they forced Ben O'Donnell into touch on the opposite side of the field, NSW then had the opportunity to clear their half and make the Brumbies roll 50 metres back upfield to retake the lead.

However, with little to no pressure on him from the lineout win, Donaldson sprayed the clearing kick off the outside of his boot and into touch on the full. With the ball having been brought back into the 22, the lineout came all the way back to where Donaldson had kicked from.

The Brumbies needed no invitation from there, Debreczeni finding Corey Toole out wide for the match's decisive try and a fifth win for ACT for the season only a few moments later.

You had to feel for Donaldson, but with the playmaker now having three seasons of Super Rugby under his belt these are the mistakes he simply cannot afford to be making.

Still, the error did not cost Donaldson a place in Jones' Wallabies training squad, the fly-half included for what the coach explained was his work on last year's spring tour and not his sluggish start to Super Rugby Pacific this season.