Super Rugby Pacific: Five bold predictions for the 2023 edition, including a shift in the on-field hierarchy

Super Rugby Pacific: Split with Robertson, Crusaders and Damian McKenzie Credit: Alamy
Super Rugby Pacific: Split with Robertson, Crusaders and Damian McKenzie Credit: Alamy

The 2023 Super Rugby Pacific campaign has finally arrived and will begin this weekend, starting with a mouth-watering clash between defending champions the Crusaders and the Chiefs.

As the teams gear up for the start of what will be another action-packed tournament, Planet Rugby has put together five bold predictions for this year’s edition.

Competition to grow in interest because of the Eddie Jones factor

Rugby in Australia is suddenly filled with a boatload more optimism and excitement after veteran coach Jones was drafted in to replace the stalling Dave Rennie as boss of the Wallabies.

In one of his first acts as head coach, Jones appealed to the Australian public to get behind the sport and help the team build momentum. He then hinted at using the Super Rugby coaches in Australia to mastermind a plan to steal the William Webb Ellis Cup from under the noses of some of rugby’s giants.

How this impacts crowd attendance in the competition is yet to be seen, but one can expect an elevated interest from the public. It would be brilliant to see fans collect in numbers inside the stadiums and create a real buzz around the competition, just as the Super Rugby of old had.

Jones has one of the biggest influences on the game, and this will show itself again in this year’s edition.

Brumbies to reach the final

Dan McKellar’s Brumbies came perilously close to a spot in the final last season, losing 20-19 to the Blues in the semis. They were the best Australian team, finishing fourth on the table and six points ahead of the Waratahs – the next best side from the country.

Stephen Larkham takes over the reins this season and will look to take them one step further. The Brumbies have a solid squad with decent depth in most positions on the park and should be able to build on the efforts from the previous campaign.

It will be fascinating to see the influence of the Wallaby great on the side, particularly the half-backs. Larkham has interestingly chosen to bench Wallabies duo Nic White and Noah Lolesio in the opening round of the competition.

Larkham’s impact and Jones’ beating of the drum could culminate in a shot at the title for the men from Australia’s capital.

Damian McKenzie to finish as top-points scorer

After some time in Japan, the smiling assassin returns to New Zealand and will be looking to hit the ground running in a World Cup year. No question about it, the superstar is going to do everything in his power to book a plane ticket to France.

McKenzie starts at fly-half this weekend, where he is unreal going forward – whether playing someone else through a hole or exploiting the defence himself. The Chief is a one-of-a-kind player oozing flair, confidence and pure x-factor.

He is try threat no matter what number is on his back, and his goal-kicking is very accomplished. So expect McKenzie to swoop in and finish the season as the top-scorer and earn himself a ticket to France for the World Cup.

Fijian Drua to reach the play-offs

The islanders did not have things their own way during the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season and finished second last, ahead of their fellow newcomers Moana Pasifika, with both sides only managing two wins during the tournament.

Despite not winning a great deal of games, Drua were only 11 points off a quarter-final spot and performed very well in patches throughout the competition. They will be looking to apply the lessons learnt from last season to grind out more wins in this year’s edition.

The squad boasts some serious running power in Apisalome Vota and Kalaveti Ravouvou, amongst others.

Mick Byrne will be looking for his side to tighten up their set-piece and improve their discipline as they seek to put in better performances for longer periods in each game. Fijian flair is incredible at full speed and that will flourish if they can get the basics sorted.

Crusaders to finally lose grip on Super Rugby supremacy

Probably the boldest of all the predictions considering the outstanding record the Crusaders have had in Super Rugby recently, winning the last six editions (including Super Rugby Aotearoa).

The previous campaign was certainly their toughest under the brilliant Scott Robertson, who is one of the best coaches around, as they uncharacteristically finished six points behind the Blues heading into the play-offs. Of course, the Christchurch outfit would go on to underline their big match temperament and claim the title, but the performance in the regular season will be of interest to their rivals.

The Blues will grow from their defeat in the showpiece event, and coach Leon MacDonald will desperately want to take that extra step. Several of their stars became All Blacks, such as Stephen Perofeta and Mark Telea, which will benefit them going forward. However, with Perofeta and Beauden Barrett working in tandem again this year, it could spell trouble for defensive lines across the tournament.

Equally, the Chiefs are suddenly looking a lot more deadly with a stunning line-up named for the opening round thanks to several experienced All Blacks and a couple of upcoming stars. The return of McKenzie is a game-changer, and he can bring out a lot more venom from this side. Expect the Waikato men to be there or thereabouts at the top of the table.

READ MORE: All Blacks: Ian Foster believes it is ‘highly unlikely’ he will remain head coach after the World Cup

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