Super Rugby Pacific preview: Big games, Will Jordan is back and huge midfield battle in Auckland
Making its return, we bring you Super Rugby Pacific’s Round 11 preview, in which we look at the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s action.
Games to watch
Highlanders v Chiefs
The Highlanders have it all to do when they go up against the high-flying Chiefs in their New Zealand derby in Round 11’s opening match in Dunedin on Friday.
Like all New Zealand teams, both these sides employ expansive game-plans which means there should be plenty of end-to-end action in this fixture.
But while that style of play have been rewarding for the Chiefs, who are sitting pretty at the top of the table, the Highlanders have had mixed results and they currently occupy eighth position in the standings with just 15 points amassed from their nine matches played.
That is largely due to their form of late which has been poor as they come into this fixture in a desperate mood after losing their last three matches, against the Hurricanes, Western Force and Waratahs.
By contrast, their opponents are on a high as they have won all nine of their games played so far and they will be brimming with confidence after doing the double over defending champions, the Crusaders, courtesy of a victory in their tournament opener in Christchurch and last weekend’s corresponding fixture in Hamilton.
Clayton McMillan’s troops showed in that encounter that they are an outstanding team who give their all for a full 80 minutes and they will be quietly confident of extending their winning streak.
The previous match between these sides took place in Round Three when the Chiefs sealed a 28-7 triumph in Hamilton.
Reds v Waratahs
The Reds and the Waratahs have hardly set the world alight in this year’s Super Rugby Pacific but both will be brimming with confidence when they face off in Townsville on Saturday.
This, after they managed to secure victories in their most recent matches in the competition last weekend.
The Reds clinched a 31-17 victory over the Western Force in Brisbane – a result which has elevated them to sixth position in the standings, two points clear of the Waratahs, who are just one position below them on the table.
That result was a momentous one for the men from Brisbane as it followed a 40-28 triumph against Moana Pasifika in Round Eight, which meant they clinched back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
That should boost their confidence ahead of their clash against their arch rivals, the Waratahs, who also have a spring in their step after clinching that one-point victory over the Highlanders.
Although the Sydneysiders have found the going tough during the earlier rounds, that result against the men from Dunedin was a morale-boosting one for them and they are expected to put up a brave fight against the Reds.
Darren Coleman’s troops have been very inconsistent this season and prior to that win over the Highlanders they conceded more than 50 points in a defeat to the Blues in Auckland.
Matches between the Reds and Waratahs are usually tight affairs although the Reds proved too strong for the Waratahs when these sides met in their previous encounter in Brisbane last year.
Player to watch – Will Jordan (Crusaders)
It has been eight long months since the Crusaders speedster took to any rugby field due to ongoing migraine-related issues.
However, much to the delight of the man himself and the greater rugby community, Jordan will start for the champions against the Western Force in Christchurch on Saturday.
Jordan is easily one of the best finishers in the game, a player who defines the word ‘prolific’ in the modern-era.
With pace to burn and outstanding attacking positioning that makes some of his tries look so basic, the outside back will always be a try threat.
The full-back knows he will need to find some form to ensure he has a spot in the All Blacks squad and expect him to be heavily involved in the action. We certainly will not be surprised to see him score on his return.
Ultimately it is a pleasure to see Jordan’s name on a team sheet, as there would be a huge deficit in the rugby world if the supremely talented try-scoring machine was to be ruled out for even longer.
One-v-one battle to watch – Bryce Heem (Blues) v Levi Aumua (Moana Pasifika)
This week’s main battle is an intriguing one between two stars on different trajectories. One is a well-travelled veteran, and the other is a battering ram in every sense of the word. It is the Blues’ Heem against Moana Pasifika’s Aumua.
Heem has always been a talented outside back with a solid rugby brain powering good decision-making. He forms part of a nucleus of quality midfielders at the Blues. He starts outside Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and will be looking to reap the benefits of the partnership on attack. However, on defence he will have his work cut out for him as a key decision-maker against a robust Moana backline.
Aumua has been brilliant for his side ever since they joined the competition and has taken his game to the next level this season. The brutal ball carrier leads the competition in defenders beaten, and he will certainly be adding to that tally this weekend as he does every week. He is a key player in the make-up of Moana’s attack whether he is busting up the middle and narrowing the defensive line or looking to play teammates into the outside channels.
It’s all set to be a monstrous battle as the Auckland neighbours collide.
Subplot to watch – Race for play-off spots intensifying
With just five rounds of the league phase of the competition left to play, there is a clamour amongst the teams to reach this season’s play-offs which start with the quarter-finals in a month from now on the weekend of June 9 and June 10.
At the moment, apart from Moana Pasifika, all the other teams still have a chance of reaching the play-offs.
As the only unbeaten team left in the competition, the Chiefs are on course to clinch top spot as they currently have 40 points amassed from the nine matches they have played and they are eight points clear of the Brumbies, who are in second place.
Meanwhile, only four points separate the Canberra-based outfit and the Crusaders – who occupy fifth spot – with the Hurricanes and Blues in third and fourth positions respectively.
There is sure to be a scramble for the aforementioned teams to secure the runners-up spot in the standings – as it secures a home semi-final if they advance from the quarter-finals – don’t be surprised if there is a game of musical chairs being played amongst these sides over the next few weeks.
The same is true for the Reds, Waratahs, Highlanders, Rebels, Force and Fijian Drua who are chasing the remaining three quarter-final positions. As things currently stand six points separate the Reds, who have 19 points and the Drua, who are on 13 points and all these clubs can ill afford to slip up during their remaining league matches.
Best of the rest
There are two other matches scheduled to take place this weekend with Saturday’s programme kicking off in Suva where the Drua host the Hurricanes, while the Rebels take on the Brumbies in Melbourne on Sunday.
Despite being in second last spot in the standings, the Drua have been competitive in most of their matches and the Hurricanes face a tricky assignment in Suva.
Meanwhile, the Rebels and Brumbies round off the weekend’s activities with their Australian derby and the men from Canberra will be keen to return to winning ways after losing against the Hurricanes last weekend while the Rebels will be keen to build on their triumph over Moana Pasifika.
READ MORE: Super Rugby Pacific: Will Jordan to make long-awaited Crusaders return against Western Force
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