Super Rugby Pacific preview: Top-of-the-table clashes, battle of the 10s in Lautoka and all eyes on Harry Wilson
Making its return, we bring you Super Rugby Pacific’s Round 10 preview, in which we look at the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s action.
After three rounds of truncated action, this weekend sees a return to a full round of matches.
Round 10 also doubles as a Culture Round in which all 12 sides will showcase the cultures of their teams and rugby through dance, music, cultural jerseys and language.
Games to watch
Hurricanes v Brumbies
Round 10’s action gets underway in Wellington on Friday when the fourth-placed Hurricanes host the Brumbies, who are second on the table, in what promises to be a highly entertaining affair.
Both teams had byes last weekend and will be determined to make a winning return to action.
The Hurricanes were on the losing side in their previous match, against the Chiefs in Wellington in Round Eight, and know they can ill afford another defeat if they want to stay in touch with the Chiefs at the top of the table.
The home side will have an extra incentive to do well as it was announced earlier this week that their head coach, Jason Holland, will leave the franchise – after a three-year stint in charge – to join the All Blacks coaching staff as an assistant coach after the World Cup.
Meanwhile, the Brumbies have shown once again that they are a cut above the rest of the Australian teams in Super Rugby Pacific as they are the only side from that country who are managing to stay in touch with the leading New Zealand teams – the Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Blues.
They head into this encounter in a confident mood after winning seven of their eight matches played so far – with their only blemish being a Round Five loss to the Crusaders – although they had to dig deep to beat the Fijian Drua in their previous game in Round Eight.
The previous match between these sides was an entertaining affair in Canberra last year with the Brumbies clinching a deserved 35-25 quarter-final triumph.
Chiefs v Crusaders
With Super Rugby Pacific fast approaching its business end things are hotting up at the top of the table and there is plenty of interest in Saturday’s clash between the Chiefs and Crusaders in Hamilton.
The Chiefs have hit the ground running in this year’s competition as have won all eight of their matches played so far this year and are sitting pretty at the top of the standings on 36 points.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders are eight points adrift of Clayton McMillan’s men in third position on the table after losing two of their eight matches in the tournament.
One of those games was the corresponding fixture against the Chiefs in Christchurch in Round One when the visitors sealed a deserved 31-10 victory.
After that encounter, the men from Hamilton have gone from strength to strength as they maintained their impressive run, while the defending champions had one other slip up – against the Fijian Drua in Round Three when they suffered a shock 25-24 defeat in Lautoka.
To their credit, the Crusaders have bounced back since that reversal and won their next five matches but face a daunting task against a superb Chiefs outfit, who will be brimming with confidence in front of their home fans.
Player to watch – Harry Wilson (Reds)
The 22-year-old signed a new contract with the Reds and Rugby Australia earlier this week but will be a man on a mission when he turns out for his club against the Western Force on Saturday.
Despite recommitting to Australian rugby until 2025, the Wallabies number eight is finding himself on the the periphery of his national team after initially missing out on head coach Eddie Jones’ first training camp on the Gold Coast earlier this month. He was a late inclusion in Jones’ group as a replacement after Pete Samu and Langi Gleeson withdrew due to injury.
However, Wilson is a prodigious talent who has showed his class over the years for the Reds, although he only made two appearances for Australia in 2022.
That means he should be highly motivated when he runs out against the Force and will be keen to make an impact, especially as a ball carrier. Wilson is currently occupying first place for the number of carries made during Super Rugby Pacific and he should increase his lead in that category with a strong performance with ball in hand.
One-v-one battle to watch – Teti Tela (Fijian Drua) v Beauden Barrett (Blues)
There’s plenty of excitement ahead of the Saturday’s early match between the Drua and Blues in Lautoka and the home side’s fly-half Tela faces a tough assignment against Barrett, who is one of the best playmakers in the business.
The Drua have already exceeded expectations in this year’s tournament as they have won three matches, which is one better than what they achieved during the 2022 season.
Tela shone during the Drua’s victories in this campaign – against Moana Pasifika, the Crusaders and Rebels – as he has impressed with his playmaking skills and game management, which will have to be at its best against a player of Barrett’s calibre.
Those matches against the Crusaders and Rebels were both in Fiji and if Tela’s fine form continues the Drua will fancy their chances of staying unbeaten on home soil.
Meanwhile, Barrett has hit his straps in recent weeks after some poor performances in the earlier rounds. The All Black’s ability to create try-scoring opportunities for his team-mates makes him a genuine threat to the Drua’s defence.
The Blues have scored more than 50 points in their previous two Super Rugby Pacific matches – against the Rebels and Waratahs – and Barrett’s superb performances was a big factor in helping them achieve those feats.
Subplot to watch – Will Moana Pasifika finally turn the corner?
It is the second season in Super Rugby Pacific for Moana Pasifika who have failed to adapt as well as the Fijian Drua to the rigours of the fast-paced tournament.
So far this season Moana show zero victories from their eight games and have only two bonus points on the board. They are the only team without a win.
It is not to say the team is lacking talent as there are some quality players in the side. Levi Aumua and Tomoci Tavatavanawai for example are the two leading players for defenders beaten in the competition thus far.
They welcome the Rebels, who are only one place above them on the table, to Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland and have the perfect opportunity to grab their first win of the season.
Every game they go without a victory more pressure is applied to the squad. They need to break the seal and find their feet sooner rather than later.
Best of the rest
There is one more match scheduled to take place this weekend and it will be between the Waratahs and Highlanders at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Friday.
Both sides are amongst the also-rans in the competition and come into this weekend’s fixture after suffering defeats last weekend.
The Highlanders are currently in seventh position on the table with 14 points amassed from eight matches, while the Waratahs are in 10th spot just a point adrift after the same number of games played.
READ MORE: Crusaders: Sam Whitelock hits 350 against the Chiefs while Leicester Fainga’anuku and Oli Jager are back from injury
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