Super Rugby Pacific: Five storylines ahead of the Super Round including an intriguing semi-final replay

Super Rugby Pacific: The Blues and Brumbies compete for the ball in the air Credit: Alamy
Super Rugby Pacific: The Blues and Brumbies compete for the ball in the air Credit: Alamy

The second round of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific arrives this weekend with a unique twist for the Super Round in Melbourne.

After a blockbuster round one filled with big scorelines, late tries and drama, Planet Rugby selects five storylines to follow ahead of the marquee weekend.

All roads lead to AAMI Park

Melbourne plays host to another Super Round this weekend as all teams descend on AAMI Park to play out a festival of southern hemisphere rugby.

The games will be played in doubleheaders on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, beginning with Crusaders against Highlanders and Rebels against the Hurricanes on the opening day.

It will be interesting to see how the Australian public takes to the event, with rugby in the country seemingly rejuvenated since the return of Eddie Jones to the helm of the Wallabies.

Super Rugby Pacific’s flagship weekend will offer many answers to questions around the status of the tournament and its viability going forward.

Can the hosts perform in front of home fans?

What comes with hosting a round of this magnitude is the pressure to perform for the home fans. Worryingly the Rebels did not make the best start to their campaign losing in the opening round to a Jeremy Thrush-inspired Western Force side.

The loss is their fifth in a row in the competition dating back to the final found rounds of last season’s Super Rugby Pacific.

It does not get much easier as they face a Hurricanes side that looked mighty impressive in the opening round when they dominated the Reds 47-13 in Queensland.

Last season there was a fair gap between the Brumbies and the rest of the Australian sides, with a half exception for the Waratahs, who improved over the season. The proof will be in the pudding this weekend as to whether or not the Rebels have found some way to bridge the gap to their counterparts and, ultimately, the high-powered New Zealand sides.

Semi-final replay

The match of the Super Round is certainly between the Blues and Brumbies, a replay of last season’s semi-final that saw the New Zealanders nick it late and win by one point in a blockbuster clash.

The battle only gets more intriguing this season as the Blues have blasted their way out of the blocks with a mammoth 60-20 win over the Highlanders in round one. It is clear there is unfinished business in Auckland after losing in the final to the Crusaders despite being the best side in the regular season. Their backline is off the charts with pace, and with Beauden Barrett and Stephen Perofeta pulling the strings, it makes for a very dangerous prospect.

On the other hand, the Brumbies are settling in under Stephen Larkham and reaffirmed their hold at the top of the Australian pile last weekend with a solid 31-25 win over their closest competitors, the Waratahs. The side will take huge confidence with that victory and will want nothing more than to kick on and pip their Auckland rivals.

Buckle up for some vintage Super Rugby.

Australian derby

The Super Round hosts mainly Trans-Tasman derbies, with the only Australian derby between the Western Force and the Reds.

The Force will be buoyed by their stunning win in round one against the Rebels and will look to put in another passionate display as they continue their push to ensure Western Australia stays on the rugby map.

The Reds, on the other hand, will be bitterly disappointed with their start as they were nowhere against a rampant Hurricanes side. Brad Thorn’s men will be desperate to find a win in Melbourne as the two teams fight to see where they fall in Australia’s rugby hierarchy.

It will be fascinating to see which way the ball will bounce, but importantly a big game is required from both squads so early on in the competition.

Can Pacific sides cope with ever-improving opposition?

The two newer sides, Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua, kicked off their second season in the competition with a scintillating Pacific Derby, complete with a late try by debutant Taniela Rakuro to clinch the result.

It does not get easier for either side this weekend as Moana Pasifika faces the Chiefs, who expertly put the Crusaders away in Christchurch last weekend. The Waikato men look to have a new lease of life with Damian McKenzie at pivot and laid a marker for the whole competition with that victory. The clash will be a good opportunity for the Pasifika side to take stock and see how far their development has come ahead of a gruelling season.

The Drua has arguably a more feasible task but not a simple one by any means as they face an improving Waratahs side. The New South Wales side did lose in the opening weekend but looked good at times and had an outside chance of claiming the win. The team needs time in the saddle, but with an energised Michael Hooper, some experienced campaigners and the X-factor of teenager Max Jorgensen, the Waratahs are a tricky prospect.

Nevertheless, the Fijian Drua will bring passion and physicality as they try to rattle the Sydney men. A big occasion for the side that will look to send shockwaves through the competition with an impressive win.

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