Super Charged: Trans-Tasman rivalry continues and a gripping full-back battle

·7-min read
 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 next round of Super Rugby Pacific action.

Games to watch

Reds v Chiefs

The Super Rugby AU champions welcome the Chiefs to Suncorp Stadium on the back of a 30-17 loss to the Hurricanes in the Super Round last weekend. The absence of James O’Connor has been felt as the veteran playmaker has been integral to their success in the initial stages of the competition.

However, it serves as an opportunity for Lawson Creighton to step up. The fly-half is well protected by captain Tate McDermott and centre Hamish Steward.

Upfront, the Reds will be relying on the power of prop Taniela Tupou to prevent the Chiefs from having a platform to work with. The Reds’ loose forwards, Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight have been superb this season, with an impressive work rate that is required if their side has any chance against the Chiefs.

The Chiefs dominated the Waratahs in a 51-27 win last time out in a solid start against Australian opposition. Wing Jonah Lowe scored four tries and will be hungry to cross the whitewash for more.

The pack is very settled, with young second-row pairing Josh Lord and Tupou Vaa’i showing their worth in the absence of Brodie Rettalick. Meanwhile, Bryn Gatland has been solid at 10 and will be crucial in the absence of O’Connor.

It will be a tough clash for the hosts as the fast-paced Chiefs side may prove too much to handle.

Fijian Drua v Highlanders

The Fijian Drua have not enjoyed the best results in the competition thus far winning only one of nine games.

However, that is not an accurate depiction of how they have fared on the field. In patches, the newcomers have been unplayable with sublime counter-attacks and a strong offloading game and they will be hoping to build on that when they host the Highlanders in their first match in Suva on Saturday.

Consistency is the next step for the Drua, providing a solid platform for more extended periods of the game whilst maintaining discipline. Once they can find more confidence in attacking during structured play, they will see improved results.

The Highlanders have had a horrid season, and their 28-17 loss to the Brumbies made them the only New Zealand team to lose to Australian opposition in the Super Round.

There was an expectation for the Dunedin-based side to kick on against their cross Tasman rivals and turn their season around, but it was not to be. It is troubling times for the team but facing one of the newcomers could be an excellent opportunity to get back on track.

Captain Aaron Smith is absolutely crucial and needs to inspire his side. There are plenty of hard workers on the park, but the side needs key decision-makers such as fly-half Mitch Hunt and full-back Connor Garden-Bashop to execute their attacking structures.

The game serves as an opportunity for both sides to get their seasons back on track. The Highlanders may feed into the Drua’s love for open play but do not count the New Zealanders out, who are equally comfortable attacking from broken play.

Player to watch – Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Blues)

The Blues centre made a highly-publicised move from rugby league at the beginning of the season and has not made the immediate impact expected.

It is clear that Tuivasa-Sheck is still adapting to the intricacies of union, but success seems inevitable for the highly talented individual. Word out of the Blues camp has been nothing but positive about Tuivasa-Sheck’s worth ethic and willingness to learn. Beauden Barrett lauded Tuivasa-Sheck as freakishly talented, which has been evident on the field. In snippets, the former league star has shown his qualities as a hard runner with a wicked sidestep and remarkable turn of pace.

Covid disruptions in Super Rugby Pacific resulted in a congested schedule forcing teams to rotate and use squad depth, meaning Tuivasa-Sheck has not had the extended run needed to acclimatise to the rigours of union and a shoulder injury sustained in the Blues’ opener against the Hurricanes has kept him sidelined for the bulk of the campaign.

However, the code-hopper is back to full fitness and certainly has all the tools to excel. A start against the Western Force sets up an ideal opportunity to prove his worth. By now, Tuivasa-Sheck should have adapted to union, and if he is to fulfil his dream of donning the All Blacks jersey, now is the time to perform.

Starting outside the red-hot Barrett will certainly aid Tuivasa-Sheck’s chances of exploiting the Force defensive line, and he will likely be a menace on Friday.

One-v-one battle to watch – Alex Newsome (Waratahs) v Will Jordan (Crusaders)

A sumptuous battle of the full-backs awaits this weekend. Waratah Alex Newsome has been in glittering try-scoring form crossing the whitewash three times in the last two games. The Australian showed his versatility, playing on the wing for one of those games.

Newsome is a very aware player with an astute tactical understanding allowing him to, more often than not, be in the right place at the right time. He boasts a sound kicking game and always seems calm with the ball in hand. This season he has grown as a player and has been an integral part of the Waratahs’ revival in 2022.

Expect Newsome to be solid throughout the game and try to get his side playing in the right areas whilst also searching for any compelling opportunities to join the attacking line effectively.

Will Jordan is, by definition, prolific. The young All Black possesses a remarkable turn of pace and is an absolute predator for the try line. Coupled with his attacking instinct is a skill-set complete with a solid boot and delicate offloading ability that has carved open many defences.

When the Crusaders have a team under pressure, he is a threat when joining the attacking line, but where the true venom lies is in broken play. Jordan will punish teams in broken play and has done so on many occasions.

Versatility faces venom. It will be a fascinating battle that may influence the scoreline. It is all to play for this weekend.

Subplot to watch – The table will continue to change as the Australian teams face more New Zealand opposition

New Zealand teams claimed four of five scalps from their Australian counterparts and underlined their dominance shown over the last decade. This will likely continue with the Highlanders looking like the only New Zealand side struggling to find their feet this season.

The table will continue to change, and only after three more rounds will the standings begin to accurately reflect Super Rugby Pacific’s true hierarchy.

Expect another dominant weekend of rugby for New Zealand’s fast-paced sides as the Australian sides continue to attempt to combat the pace of the game.

READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific Team Tracker: Luke Jacobson to captain the Chiefs against Reds

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