Super Rugby Pacific preview: Big games in Christchurch and Perth, centre duel in Sydney and Freddie Burns in the spotlight

·7-min read
SRP preview image Rd 12 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy
SRP preview image Rd 12 2023.jpg Credit: Alamy

Making its return, we bring you Super Rugby Pacific’s Round 12 preview, in which we look at the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s action.

Games to watch

Scroll to continue with content

Crusaders v Blues

With Super Rugby Pacific fast approaching its business end, several teams are jockeying for a favourable play-off position, none more so than the Crusaders and Blues who face off in Christchurch on Friday.

With just four rounds of the league phase of the competition left, the Chiefs are sitting comfortably at the top of the table with 46 points amassed, while the Brumbies are 10 points adrift in second spot. The Blues, Crusaders and Hurricanes occupy the next three positions with the men from Auckland on 34 points while the latter two teams have 33 and 32 points respectively.

That means there will be more than bragging rights at stake when the Crusaders and Blues head into battle this weekend. Both sides are renowned for their entertaining style of play and there should be plenty of fireworks in the latest instalment of their rivalry.

Both teams will be brimming with confidence ahead of this fixture after notching important victories in their most recent matches. The Crusaders cruised to an impressive 48-13 win over the Western Force, while the Blues clinched a nail-biting 31-30 triumph against Moana Pasifika.

Several of the Blues’ first choice players were rested for that narrow victory but have been recalled for their clash with the Crusaders. These sides met earlier this year at Eden Park in a highly entertaining clash at Eden Park with the Crusaders clinching a hard-fought 34-28 victory.

Don’t be surprised if this weekend’s match is of a similar high standard to that thrilling encounter.

Western Force v Fijian Drua

There should be plenty of thrilling action when these two desperate sides go head-to-head in what should be an entertaining showdown in Perth on Friday.

Their desperation stems from these teams’ positions on the table as the league phase of the competition races towards its inevitable conclusion.

Although the Drua moved into eighth spot last week – after notching a memorable win over the Hurricanes in Suva – they are clinging to that final play-off spot by the skin of their teeth.

They currently have 17 points while the Force, who are in 11th place, are just four points adrift with the Rebels and Highlanders sandwiched in between on 15 points apiece.

The Drua face a daunting task as they have been struggling away from home and apart from a victory over Moana Pasifika in Auckland in their tournament opener, they have lost all their other games on the road – against the Reds, Highlanders, Brumbies and Chiefs – this year.

It will not be easy, however, as the Force have won three out four matches in Perth – against the Rebels, Moana and Highlanders – although the Drua will gain confidence from the fact that Simon Cron’s troops suffered a big loss against the Reds in their backyard in Round Two.

The last time these sides met in Sydney last year, the Force had to dig deep to claim a narrow triumph and we expect Friday’s clash to go down to the wire again.

Player to watch – Freddie Burns (Highlanders)

All eyes will be on the former England international when he starts at fly-half for a struggling Highlanders outfit against the Brumbies in Sunday’s clash in Canberra.

There was plenty of hype when the experienced playmaker joined the Highlanders on a one-year contract from Premiership champions Leicester Tigers earlier this year.

However, things have not gone according to plan for the 32-year-old as he found the going tough at the Highlanders, who head into their clash with the Brumbies occupying 10th position in the standings in the 12-team competition.

Burns‘ stint at the Highlanders has been hampered by a foot injury which kept him on the sidelines for six weeks and although he started at fly-half against the Chiefs in Dunedin last week, there was little to smile about for him and his team as the men from Hamilton cruised to a 52-28 victory.

Despite that defeat, Highlanders head coach Clarke Dermody is persevering with Burns at fly-half and he will be expected to provide direction with his playmaking skills and game management as the Dunedin-based side go in search of a rare win to keep their play-off hopes alive.

One-v-one battle to watch – Izaia Perese (Waratahs) v Reece Hodge (Rebels)

There should be plenty of fireworks when these two Wallabies go head-to-head in what is expected to be a closely fought battle between the Waratahs and Rebels in Sydney on Saturday.

After being sidelined for more than six months with a serious knee injury, Perese returned to action earlier this year and although he did not immediately reach the excellent form which saw him earning a call-up for the Wallabies, he has caught the eye with some fine performances in recent weeks.

A brilliant attacker, blessed with great strength, searing pace and an astute rugby brain, the 25-year-old is sure to test the Rebels’ defence.

Meanwhile, Hodge’s utility value makes him a valuable member of the Rebels squad.

A strong ball carrier, he will be expected to give his team momentum with ball in hand while his booming boot will also come in handy when kicking for goal and for touch.

Subplot to watch – Chiefs chasing perfection

After 11 rounds of action, the men from Hamilton are the only team left in the tournament who still have to taste defeat as they have won all 10 of the matches they have played so far.

With four matches left before the tournament reaches its knockout rounds, the big question is if Clayton McMillan’s troops can sustain their remarkable winning run and go on to win all their play-off matches to lift the trophy as champions.

They get Round 12’s action underway when they take on the Reds in Hamilton on Friday and based on current form the Chiefs should have little trouble of clinching a victory against Brad Thorn’s charges.

Following that encounter, they face tricky assignments against the Hurricanes and Brumbies, in Hamilton and Canberra respectively, before they finish off their league campaign against the Force in Perth.

Winning all their remaining league matches will not be easy but based on their current form it certainly is doable and if they manage to do that, it will set them up nicely for the play-offs.

Best of the rest

There is just one other match scheduled to take place this weekend and that will be the early game on Saturday when the Hurricanes host Moana Pasifika in Wellington.

The home side will be determined to get their campaign back on track after suffering a shock away loss to the Drua last weekend, while Moana are still chasing and elusive victory after coming agonisingly close to achieving that feat against the Blues.

The Hurricanes will be overwhelming favourites to win this match as apart from playing on their home patch, they also cruised to an easy 59-0 victory over Moana in the corresponding match between these sides at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland in Round Five.

READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific: Akira Ioane set to make 100th appearance for Blues in derby with Crusaders

The article Super Rugby Pacific preview: Big games in Christchurch and Perth, centre duel in Sydney and Freddie Burns in the spotlight appeared first on