22 Feb 2024

Super Rugby Pacific preview: The ultimate grudge match and two potential shootouts

3:49 pm on 22 February 2024
Captains photo with Super Rugby Pacific trophy, Scott Barrett of the Crusaders and Luke Jacobson of the Chiefs.

Captains photo with Super Rugby Pacific trophy, Scott Barrett of the Crusaders and Luke Jacobson of the Chiefs. Photo: Alan Lee / www.photosport.nz

Analysis - Over the last week we've had a look at how New Zealand team is tracking for this year's competition, now it's time to preview the first round of action.

Chiefs v Crusaders

Kickoff: 7:05pm Friday

FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton - Live updates on RNZ Sport

Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs.

Damian McKenzie of the Chiefs. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Chiefs are so fired up for this one they started scrapping each other at training on Wednesday, a sure-fire sign they're out for a bit of revenge for last year's final loss to the 14-time champions. It's worth remembering this was the fixture that opened last year's competition as well, with the Chiefs handing the Crusaders a record 31-8 loss in Christchurch.

Meanwhile, the defending champs have been hit with the news that Will Jordan is out for the season, which is on top of them losing a ton of All Black experience anyway. Just how they'll cope with a very strong looking Chiefs team will be interesting, although they've certainly embraced the fact that they're up against it this year by incorporating that into their marketing.

Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Liam Coombes-Fabling, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Quinn Tupaea, 11 Etene Nanai-Seturo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Xavier Roe, 8 Luke Jacobson (c), 7 Kaylum Boshier, 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Tupou Vaa'i, 4 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 3 Reuben O'Neill, 2 Bradley Slater, 1 Aidan Ross

Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei'aho, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 George Dyer, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Cortez Ratima, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Daniel Rona

Crusaders: 15 Chay Fihaki, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Levi Aumua, 12 Dallas McLeod, 11 Macca Springer, 10 Rivez Reihana, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Dominic Gardiner, 5 Quinten Strange, 4 Scott Barrett (c), 3 Tamaiti Williams, 2 George Bell, 1 George Bower

Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jamie Hannah, 20 Christian Lio-Willie, 21 Noah Hotham, 22 Taha Kemara, 23 Ryan Crotty

Rebels v Brumbies

Kickoff: 9:35pm Friday

AAMI Park, Melbourne

Tough start for the Rebels after an even tougher run in. The news of their financial woes and uncertain future can go one of two ways now: it can either galvanise the struggling project into some form of on field success, or simply be the main reason the players lose motivation and start looking at other options. It's not an easy start, the Brumbies have been the shining light of the Aussie Super teams throughout its entire existence and were very much deserving of their semi final appearance last year.

Rebels: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Lachie Anderson, 13 Filipo Daugunu, 12 David Feliuai, 11 Glen Vaihu, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Rob Leota (c), 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Josh Kemeny, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Josh Canham, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Jordan Uelese, 1 Matt Gibbson

Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Isaac Kailea, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Tuaina Taii Tualima, 20 Vaiolini Ekuasi, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Jake Strachan, 23 Nick Jooste

Brumbies: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Andy Muirhead, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Ollie Sapsford, 11 Corey Toole, 10 Noah Lolesio, 9 Ryan Lonergan (c), 8 Charlie Cale, 7 Luke Reimer, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Tom Hooper, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Rhys Van Nek, 2 Lachlan Lonergan, 1 James Slipper

Replacements: 16 Billy Pollard, 17 Blake Schoupp, 18 Sefo Kautai, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Jahrome Brown, 21 Klayton Thorn, 22 Declan Meredith, 23 Tamati Tua

Force v Hurricanes

Kickoff: 12:00am Saturday

HBF Park, Perth

Jordie Barrett in action for the Hurricanes.

Jordie Barrett in action for the Hurricanes. Photo: AAP / www.photosport.nz

Clark Laidlaw's first game in charge of a Super Rugby side, or indeed a 15-a-side team, will be interesting. It's hard to see the Canes changing up too much in terms of style, given how reliant they will be on Jordie Barrett's linebreaking ability and the powerful loose forward unit they've assembled. The key question though is how they can turn a string of big game losses last year into wins, and this fixture is a pretty good way to start prepping for them. The Force aren't bad, they've picked up Nic White and Ben Donaldson in the halves, and have former Highlanders lock Tom Franklin as well a winger called Harry Potter.

Force: 15 Max Burey, 14 Harry Potter, 13 Sam Spink, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Chase Tiatia, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Nic White (cc), 8 Will Harris, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Michael Wells (cc), 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Tom Horton, 1 Marley Pearce

Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Charlie Hancock, 18 Tiaan Taukipulu, 19 Lopeti Faifua, 20 Tim Anstee, 21 Ollie Callan, 22 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 23 George Poolman

Hurricanes: 15 Ruben Love, 14 Josh Moorby, 13 Billy Proctor, 12 Jordie Barrett (cc), 11 Kini Naholo, 10 Brett Cameron, 9 Jordi Viljoen, 8 Peter Lakai, 7 Du'Plessis Kirifi, 6 Devan Flanders, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 Caleb Delany, 3 Pasilio Tosi, 2 Asafo Aumua (cc), 1 Xavier Numea.

Replacements: 16 James O'Reilly, 17 Pouri Rakete-Stones, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Justin Sangster, 20 Brayden Iose, 21 Cam Roigard, 22 Riley Higgins, 23 Salesi Rayasi

Blues v Fijian Drua

Kickoff: 4:35pm Saturday

Semenoff Stadium, Whangārei - Live updates on RNZ Sport

Sam Darry of the Blues scores a try as Simione Kuruvoli of Fijian Drua tackles.

Sam Darry of the Blues scores a try as Simione Kuruvoli of Fijian Drua tackles. Photo: AAP / www.photosport.nz

One thing is for sure about this game: there are going to be a lot of very tired bodies at the end of it. The forecast is for just under 30 degrees in the winterless north, which will suit the Drua just fine as they look to achieve a rare away win. But really, it's hard to see the Blues not walking away with this one, the squad new coach Vern Cotter has to work with is very strong and seems very keen to go one step further than the iterations of the past few years. This one will feature a bunch of tries and it's probably going to end up telling us more about the Blues than the Drua.

Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Mark Tele'a, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papali'i (c), 6 Anton Segner, 5 Josh Beehre, 4 Sam Darry, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Joshua Fusitu'a

Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Jordan Lay, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Laghlan McWhannell, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Sam Nock, 22 AJ Lam, 23 Cole Forbes

Fijian Drua: 15 Isikeli Rabitu, 14 Epeli Momo, 13 Iosefo Masi, 12 Apisalome Vota, 11 Selestino Ravutaumada, 10 Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Meli Derenalagi (c), 7 Ella Canakaivata, 6 Etonia Waqa, 5 Leone Rotuisolia, 4 Isoa Nasilasila, 3 Mesake Doge, 2 Tevita Ikanivere, 1 Livai Natave

Replacements: 16 Mesulame Dolokoto, 17 Emosi Tuqiri, 18 Jone Koroiduadua, 19 Mesake Vocevoce, 20 Vilive Miramira, 21 Peni Matawalu, 22 Kemu Valetini, 23 Tudraki Samusamuvodre

Highlanders v Moana Pasifika

Kickoff: 7:05pm Saturday

Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin - Live updates on RNZ Sport

Moana Pasifika midfield back Danny Toala.

Moana Pasifika midfield back Danny Toala. Photo: Brett Phibbs

The most intriguing game of the round? It certainly feels like it as the two strugglers from last year go at it after both hitting the reset button. Firstly, it's hard to really assess Moana given they have almost an entirely new team and staff, but there are enough talented names there to suggest they aren't going to be straight up easy beats. If they can pick up where they left off last year and force the Highlanders into a shootout, this will be well worth watching.

The Highlanders are entering their post-Aaron Smith era, however Folau Fakatava is a very handy replacement. It's outside him where things need to gel very quickly - Rhys Patchell, Tanielu Tele'a, Timoci Tavatavanawai and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens are all on Highlanders debut. For the Welshman Patchell it could end up being a very physical introduction to Super Rugby, something his English counterpart Freddie Burns found out the hard way last year.

Highlanders: 15 Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, 14 Timoci Tavatavanawai, 13 Tanielu Tele'a, 12 Sam Gilbert, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Hugh Renton, 7 Billy Harmon (c), 6 Sean Withy, 5 Fabian Holland, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Saula Ma'u, 2 Henry Bell, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown

Replacements: 16 Jack Taylor, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Oliver Haig, 20 Nikora Broughton, 21 Nathan Hastie, 22 Cameron Millar, 23 Jonah Lowe

Moana Pasifika: 15 Danny Toala, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Pepesane Patafilo, 12 Julian Savea, 11 Viliami Fine, 10 William Havili, 9 Ere Enari, 8 Lotu Inisi, 7 Alamanda Motuga, 6 Miracle Faillagi, 5 Samuel Slade, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Sione Mafielo, 2 Sama Malolo, 1 James Lay (c)

Replacements: 16 Samiuela Moli, 17 Abraham Pole, 18 Suetena Asomua, 19 Allan Craig, 20 Jacob Norris, 21 Aisea Halo, 22 D'Angelo Leuila, 23 Anzleo Tuitavuki

Reds v Waratahs

Kickoff: 10:05pm Saturday

Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Captains photo with Super Rugby Pacific trophy, Jake Gordon of the Waratahs and Tate McDermott of the Reds.

Captains photo with Super Rugby Pacific trophy, Jake Gordon of the Waratahs and Tate McDermott of the Reds. Photo: Alan Lee / www.photosport.nz

State against state, mate against mate… OK, not quite Origin but this fixture still has plenty of feeling in it. Former All Black Alex Hodgman gets his first start for the Reds on a possible journey to a Wallaby jersey, but really this game is going to give us an idea of just where Australian rugby is at after their worst year in the professional era.

Reds: 15 Jordan Petaia, 14 Suliasi Vunivalu, 13 Josh Flook, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Mac Grealy, 10 Tom Lynagh, 9 Tate McDermott (cc), 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright (cc), 5 Ryan Smith, 4 Seru Uru, 3 Zane Nonggorr, 2 Matt Faessler, 1 Alex Hodgman

Replacements: 16 Josh Nasser, 17 Peni Ravai, 18 Sef Fa'agase, 19 Cormac Daly, 20 John Bryant, 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, 23 Jock Campbell

Waratahs: 15 Joey Walton, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Izaia Perese, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Dylan Pietsch, 10 Tane Edmed, 9 Jake Gordon (c), 8 Langi Gleeson, 7 Charlie Gamble, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 5 Miles Amatosero, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 2 Mahe Vailanu, 1 Angus Bell

Replacements: 16 Theo Fourie, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Daniel Botha, 19 Sam Thomson, 20 Hugh Sinclair, 21 Teddy Wilson, 22 Harry Wilson, 23 Max Jorgensen

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