Super charged: Four teams remain and a clash of the titans

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Making its return, we bring you Super charged, in which we preview the main talking points ahead of the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals.

Games to watch

Crusaders v Chiefs

A classic New Zealand derby awaits in the first semi-final as Scott Robertson’s Crusaders host the Chiefs in Christchurch.

The clash is Robertson’s 100th game at the helm of an impressive stint at Super Rugby’s most successful club, winning 84 of 99 games.

The Crusaders and playoffs are almost synonymous. The Christchurch side seemingly always produces the goods in the biggest of games. The majority of the players in the matchday 23 have more than one Super Rugby title to their name, and that experience will be vital this weekend as the Chiefs look to upset the serial winners.

Playmaker Richie Mo’unga showed his ever-lasting class last weekend with 22 points against the Reds. No doubt the superstar will be pulling the strings on Saturday again.

There are leaders everywhere in the Crusaders’ side, and this lays the platform for talented youngsters such as Will Jordan to showcase their skill-set. The full-back has an instinct for scoring that cannot be coached and is an attribute that sets him apart. Prolific personified.

Elsewhere, Leicester Fainga’anuku leads the competition in tries and has shown tremendous growth throughout this season. The semi-final will be critical to his All Blacks chances.

The Chiefs will be no walkover as the side has built good momentum towards the latter stages of the season. Fly-half Bryn Gatland is the top points scorer and has enjoyed his best season to date, partly thanks to a flying Brad Webber, who is always a try threat whether sniping at the breakdown or superior support play.

Meanwhile, Quinn Tupaea and Alex Nakivell have been impressive as a centre pairing and will hope to frustrate the Crusaders in midfield.

The Waikato men have to disrupt the Crusaders’ forwards to have a chance to down their rivals. It is crucial not to allow Mo’unga quality ball to work with; if the playmaker has the platform to play, the Crusaders will win.

It will be a very fast-paced encounter packed with beautiful rugby where the Crusaders’ big game temperament will get them over the line.

Blues v Brumbies

The second semi-final serves up a thrilling clash between two sides who were only separated by a late Beauden Barrett drop goal in the regular season.

However, as close as the teams were last time in Canberra, this encounter should be completely different with this clash being played in Eden Park and a spot in the final up for grabs.

The home ground will be crucial for the rampant Blues, who have been the tournament’s best team, finishing top of the table after the regular season and making light work of the Highlanders in the quarter-final after a sloppy first 20 minutes.

The Auckland side’s backline has been nothing short of electric this season, with Barrett flexing his muscles and underlining his spot as the competition’s premier playmaker. Outside of him is the centre pairing of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Rieko Ioane, who have grown with each game.

The Brumbies, however, have a solid forward pack, and without Blues captain Dalton Papalii in the mix, it could be the chink in the Auckland armour.

A strong pack is not the only trump card the Brumbies have, as their backline has proved their worth this season. Tom Wright has been in ridiculous try-scoring form and is only one short of the leaders in the competition. Meanwhile, Tom Banks has underlined his ability as a top class fullback.

The Australians have been excellent this season, but the Blue engine will be too much at their fortress Eden Park.

Player to watch – Stephen Perofeta (Blues)

Arguably one of the most valuable players in the competition this season, Perofeta has been excellent whether playing at fly-half or full-back. The young star has proved himself as the complete package; a brilliant kicking game, sparkling running and impressive vision.

When playing full-back Perofeta pops up at first receiver, regularly inter-changing with Beauden Barrett within the Blues’ fluid structures.

Put simply; the Blues would not be on their club record 13-win streak without the influence of the 25-year-old.

Perofeta has taken on goal-kicking responsibility superbly, scoring 117 points this season, only three points short of the top of the pile.

The synergy of the Blues’ backline is seemingly unstoppable, and the versatile star will be at the forefront of their attacks against the Brumbies.

Expect Perofeta to boss the semi-final in back play, dominate the kicking game and join the attack with aplomb. If the playmaker is to become an All Black, it is occasions such as this where he can lay his marker down further.

One-v-one battle to watch – Scott Barrett (Crusaders) v Brodie Retallick (Chiefs)

Two gargantuan men face off in a clash of the titans in the semi-finals this week. Crusaders captain Scott Barrett has grown with leadership over the last couple of seasons and is an established All Black as one of the prominent names in coach Ian Foster’s squad.

However, Barrett’s discipline has been under the spotlight this season, having copped a suspension earlier this season for a dangerous tackle. The second-row will need to reign in this aspect of his game this weekend as penalties are sinful in playoff rugby.

In the set-piece, the Crusader has been solid, with the help of Sam Whitelock, the supremo at line-out time. This aspect of the game is vital in determining the fine margins.

This week, Barrett beat the drum over the second-row battle in the press, making for a mouth-watering clash.

Meanwhile, Chiefs star Brodie Retallick needs no introduction to the rugby world. The All Black has a boatload of appearances for club and country with few players on the planet who work harder.

Retallick’s nous at line-out time is supreme, but the vision and support play of the towering forward is what separates him from other second-rowers. The 31-year-old will go down in history as one the best in All Blacks history without doubt, and his impact since returning from injury has been colossal.

His value to the Chiefs pack cannot be overstated. The Waikato side seems to have an extra gear in the forwards when Retallick pulls on his jersey.

Two influential All Blacks square off in knockout rugby. It does not get much better than this. A true clash of the titans awaits.

Subplot to watch – Brumbies to make way for an all New Zealand final

The Brumbies have the best Australian side by some margin in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific. The Wallaby-laden side has found balance in a solid pack mixing youth and experience under the tutelage of coach Dan McKellar.

The half-back pairing of veteran Nic White and young, blossoming fly-half Noah Lolesio has been critical for the Canberra-based outfit in bringing the solid centres and flying outside backs into play.

However, the Brumbies may have leapt their last hurdle in the quarter-finals against the Hurricanes. It will be tremendously challenging to triumph over the best Blues team in the last decade, and the Australian flag will fly the flag for the last time this season.

Nevertheless, McKellar and his men must be proud of the season they have put together, laying the foundation for legend Stephen Larkham’s arrival at the club next season. As a result, the Brumbies are well poised to relive their glory days which Larkham himself was a key component of.

The 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season will be remembered for the Australians making up some ground on their New Zealand counterparts, but the impressive Brumbies will bow out against the Blues.

READ MORE: Australia: Dave Rennie reveals powerful trio as his Giteau’s Law picks

 

The article Super charged: Four teams remain and a clash of the titans appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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