Schmidt’s List: Brumbies cream rise to the top while Force playmaker and Reds contingent also shine

David Skippers
Schmidt's List image 14 May 2024.jpg

The Brumbies' Rob Valetini, Reds' Jock Campbell and Force's Ben Donaldson feature in this week's Schmidt's List.

In our third instalment of Schmidt’s List, we discuss selection prospects and topics which Wallabies head coach Joe Schmidt could be considering after the weekend’s action.

Round 12 of Super Rugby Pacific dished up some entertaining encounters, especially those involving the Australian teams, with the Reds and Brumbies and Western Force flying the flag with fine wins over the Rebels, Waratahs and Fijian Drua, respectively.

Once again, there were several players who caught the eye with excellent individual performances, which would have made a positive impression on Schmidt.

Brumbies cream rise to the top

It’s usually the case in tight encounters that a team’s best players step up to provide the point of difference with the regards to the end result and that was certainly the case when the Waratahs and Brumbies went head-to-head in atrocious weather condition Sydney on Saturday.

While the Canberra-based outfit had to dig deep to clinch the result – especially during the game’s closing stages – the cream certainly rose to the top as the likes of Wallabies quartet Rob Valetini, Len Ikitau, Tom Wright, and Nick Frost led the way while the uncapped Charlie Cale was not far behind.

Valetini showed why he is Australia’s current John Eales Medalist as he took the fight to the Sydneysiders with excellent physicality, especially on defence where he came to the fore with a solid shift while he also scored a try after good attacking play.

He received good support from Frost, who caught the eye with a busy defensive shift as he made a joint team-high 12 tackles but also did well as a ball carrier and shone in the lineouts.

Meanwhile, Cale and Ikitau also shone with ball in hand – and both crossed the whitewash – while Wright gave his side attacking momentum from the back and finished with 65 metres gained.

Force playmaker shows his class

Although the Western Force have been amongst the also-rans in Super Rugby Pacific in 2024, like all the teams in the competition they are still in the hunt for the play-offs after sealing a morale-boosting win over the Fijian Drua on Saturday.

Leading the charge for the Perth-based outfit was their fly-half Ben Donaldson, who delivered arguably his best performance for the Force since joining them from the Waratahs this year.

The Wallaby’s attacking play was superb throughout as he gained 93 metres and finished with a 23-point contribution courtesy of a try, six conversions and two penalties.

Other Force players who put their hands up for Wallabies selection were centre Bayley Kuenzle and openside flanker Carlo Tizzano.

Kuenzle showed his class with a fine attacking performance, which saw him gain a team-high 102 metres and score a try. Tizzano caught the eye on defence, making 17 hits – he is now the leading defender in the competition with 188 tackles completed.

Reds contingent

The Queenslanders had to dig deep for their victory over the Rebels in Brisbane and after trailing at half-time they delivered an outstanding second-half performance, which secured them the results and bragging rights over their rivals from Melbourne.

While it was a good team effort from the Reds in that fightback, backline players like Wallabies trio Jock Campbell, Hunter Paisami and Tate McDermott, as well as the Junkyard Dog Tim Ryan, deserve special praise for their contributions to the end result.

Wallabies star produces statement performance in front of Joe Schmidt as Western Force hammer Fijian Drua

Campbell and Ryan were superb with ball in hand and their brilliance on attack saw both crossing for tries while Paisami caught the eye with his excellent playmaking skills and his ability to create space for his outside backs.

Meanwhile, McDermott returned to action after serving a three-match suspension following foul play in the Reds‘ Round Nine defeat to Moana Pasifika and his introduction in Brisbane coincided with the Reds taking control of proceedings against the Rebels.

Of their forwards, Wallabies flanker Fraser McReight continues to impress as he came to the fore with a solid all-round display. As usual, the 25-year-old’s breakdown work was of a high standard and he also did well on attack as he scored a well-taken try.

Other notable performers

Although they finished on the losing side in a tightly contested battle against the Reds, there were some Rebels players who made their mark with fine individual performances.

Amongst their backs, Andrew Kellaway and Filipo Daugunu stood out as both gave their all for the full 80 minutes.

Kellaway was his usual, steady self at the back but was also strong on attack and scored one of his team’s tries while Daugunu regularly tested the Reds’ defence and finished with a team-high 70 metres gained.

Meanwhile, up front, Sam Talakai started on the bench but was called into action early in the opening half when Taniela Tupou was forced off through injury and the one-Test Wallaby gave a superb account of himself in the execution of his core duties and also scored a try.

Just like the Rebels, it was a similar story for the Waratahs, who came close to getting the better of the high-riding Brumbies before falling short in the latter stages of that game.

Despite finishing on the losing side, the Sydneysiders’ captain, Jake Gordon, was in fine form as he delivered a slick service to his outside backs and also got his forwards in to play with clever offloads especially at close quarters. Meanwhile, speedster Dylan Pietsch looked dangerous on attack and gained a team-high 99 metres.

Injury ward

While the Reds put up an outstanding performance in that come-from-behind win over the Rebels, the result came at a cost as star number eight Harry Wilson was forced off the field early in the second half due to injury.

The Reds revealed on Monday that the Wallaby underwent surgery on a broken arm and is expected to be sidelined for up to eight weeks.

That means his participation in Super Rugby Pacific is over, but the big question is whether the 24-year-old has done enough to impress Schmidt to earn a call-up to the Wallabies squad for their Tests against Wales and Georgia in July.

The hard running back-row has been in fine form this season and has made the most carries in Super Rugby Pacific this year.

If he recovers from his injury within the eight-week period, Wilson could come into consideration for Australia’s second Test against Wales in Melbourne on July 13 but it remains to be seen if Schmidt names him in his squad.

READ MORE: Reds suffer a setback as Wallaby ruled out with broken arm