Tim Horan hailed Vaiolini Ekuasi as “the buy of the season” as the marauding No.8 sparked the Melbourne Rebels to an upset 40-34 upset win against the Queensland Reds on Saturday night.
The 21-year-old from Auckland played one Super Rugby Pacific game for the Blues last year before moving to Australia in search of more regular playing time.
Ekuasi had been impressive off the bench in 2023 but an injury to Richard Hardwick gave him the opportunity to start at AAMI Park.
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‘Buy of the season’ scores first Rebels try
He didn’t let it slip, scoring his first Rebels try late in the first half with an eye-catching blend of athleticism and power.
“I reckon it’s the buy of the season,” Wallabies legend Horan said on Nine and Stan Sport.
“He can play this kid. He’s only got one season here (on contract) with the Rebels and I reckon they will be chatting to him on Monday morning… what a game he’s had.”
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Commentator Sean Maloney concurred.
“If I’m Nick Stiles, the general manager down here, I’m saying, ‘Hey, well, how about a couple more?’ He was huge in that game against the Waratahs (in round three) when he came off the bench and just blew the game apart,” Maloney said.
“A New Zealand 20s representative, has obviously picked up plenty behind some of those freaks with the Blues, (Dalton) Papalii and the rest of them. My goodness.”
Commentators shred no try call
Both teams had late tries scrubbed out in a seesawing, entertaining game.
Rebels substitute Daniel Maiava’s runaway try was denied after officials decided Brad Wilkin’s strip of Harry Wilson was a knock on.
Then, Reds halfback Tate McDermott scooted over in the corner to set up James O’Connor for a sideline conversion to potentially win the match.
But referee Graham Cooper and TMO Brett Cronan agreed that Reds lock Ryan Smith had illegally held Josh Kemeny and denied him the opportunity to make a tackle on McDermott.
“It doesn’t stop him from getting there,” Drew Mitchell said in commentary.
“He had already made his decision to go open side.”
Fellow former Wallaby Morgan Turinui went even harder at the officials.
“I just think that refereeing decision isn’t up to Super Rugby Pacific standard,” Turinui said.
“I think Brett Cronan’s got it wrong. I think they’ve talked Cooper into it. When he says it’s a clear hold back, it’s not. When they say it denies the opportunity to make a tackle that was never going to be made, it’s wrong. They’ve got that wrong.”
But as Turinui noted, the improved Rebels were probably the better team across the 80 minutes and deserved their win.
And Rebels coach Kevin Foote was correct in his assessment that the McDermott no try call was “harsh” on the Reds but it balanced out the earlier Maiava decision.
The Rebels took a 26-14 halftime lead after they recovered from a slow start and both sides traded points until late into the game when Melbourne’s Angelo Smith crossed the line with 13 minutes to go.
The Reds and Rebels now both have 2-3 records with Queensland sitting one spot ahead in sixth by virtue of an extra bonus point.
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