Super Rugby Pacific Round One Preview

Fri, Feb 23, 2024, 12:02 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
Rugby.com.au's Round One Preview ahead of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific. Photo: Getty Images
Rugby.com.au's Round One Preview ahead of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific. Photo: Getty Images

The Super Rugby season is upon us as teams prepare for round one this weekend.

There are plenty of quality matches across the Pacific as the 12 teams fight for the Super Rugby title.

Don't miss Super Round 2024 in Melbourne from March 1-3. Get your tickets now! 

It begins with a grand-final rematch in Hamilton whilst the Queensland Reds and NSW Waratahs will resume their rivalry in Brisbane.

Rugby.com.au previews all the action from round one.

Friday 23 February 5:05 pm AEDT – Chiefs v Crusaders at FMG Stadium, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport
Teams

CHIEFS (1-15): Aidan Ross, Bradley Slater, Reuben O'Neill, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Tupou Vaa'i, Samipeni Finau, Kalyum Boshier, Luke Jacobson (c), Xavier Roe, Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Quinn Tupaea, Anton Lienert-Brown, Liam Coombes-Fabling, Shaun Stevenson

RESERVES: Samisoni Taukei'aho, Ollie Norris, George Dyer, Jimmy Tupou, Simon Parker, Cortez Ratima, Josh Ioane, Daniel Rona

  • Lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi will play in his 50th SRP game for the club
  • Quinn Tupara returns to Super Rugby Pacific after missing the entire 2023 season with a knee injury
  • Luke Jacobson captains the side with Sam Cane and Brad Weber leaving the club

CRUSADERS (1-15): George Bower, George Bell, Tamati Williams, Scott Barrett (c), Quinten Strange, Dominic Gardiner, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Mitch Drummond, Rivez Reihana, Macca Springer, Dallas McLeod, Levi Aumua, Sevu Reece, Chay Fihaki

RESERVES: Quinten MacDonald, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Jamie Hannah, Christian Lio-Willie, Noah Hotham, Taha Kemara, Ryan Crotty

  • RIvez Reihana fills the vacant ten jersey left by Richie Mo'unga
  • Levi Aumua will start in his first game for the club since moving from Moana Pasifika
  • Macca Springer, Sevu Reece and Chay Fihaki make up the back three after Will Jordan's season-ending injury
Key Match Up

Rivez Reihana v Damian McKenzie

Reihana gets the chance to start straight away against his old side after an injury to Fergus Burke.

Mo'unga's absence is a huge loss for the Crusaders on their quest for a three-peat, heading to Japan.

As for McKenzie, his class is well known. The All Black is one of few stars from the 2023 World Cup to stay in NZ and will carry the Chiefs' title hopes on his shoulders.

Stats
  • The Chiefs have won four of their last five regular season matches against the Crusaders, with the visitors out for back-to-back wins for the first time since 2016
  • Last year's 31-10 defeat to the Chiefs was the first time in eight years the Crusaders had not won their opening game.
  • Shaun Stevenson ranked in the top six players in 2023 for metres gained (second), line breaks (second), offloads (sixth), line break assists (fifth) and try assists (third)
Prediction

Chiefs by 7

Friday 23 February 7:35 pm AEDT – Melbourne Rebels v ACT Brumbies at AAMI Park, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport

REBELS (1-15): Matt Gibbon, Jordan Uelese, Sam Talakai, Josh Canham, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Josh Kemeny, Brad Wilkin, Rob Leota (c), Jack Maunder, Carter Gordon, Glen Vaihu, David Feliuai, Filipo Daugunu, Lachie Anderson, Andrew Kellaway

RESERVES: Alex Mafi, Isaac Kailea, Taniela Tupou, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Vaiolini Ekuasi, James Tuttle, Jake Strachan, Nick Jooste

  • Sam Talakai starts at tighthead prop, with new recruit Taniela Tupou coming off the bench
  • Rob Leota will lead the side out for the first time in a Super Rugby match after missing 2023
  • Filipo Daugunu slots into the centres, where he finished last year in impressive form for the Reds

BRUMBIES (1-15): James Slipper, Lachlan Lonergan, Rhys Van Nek, Nick Frost, Tom Hooper, Rob Valetini, Luke Reimer, Charlie Cale, Ryan Lonergan (c), Noah Lolesio, Corey Toole, Ollie Sapsford, Len Ikitau, Andy Muirhead, Tom Wright

RESERVES: Billy Pollard, Blake Schoupp, Sefo Kautai, Cadeyrn Neville, Jahrome Brown, Klayton Thorn, Declan Meredith, Tamati Tua

  • Charlie Cale starts at number eight, filling the void left by Pete Samu
  • Ryan Lonergan captains the side, with Allan Alaalatoa not back until April
  • Tom Hooper continues his breakout 12 months with a starting spot in the second-row
Key Match Up

Carter Gordon v Noah Lolesio

The two tens are starting to build an interconnected history as they rise through the ranks.

Gordon's name was uttered by Lolesio when he scored in the corresponding fixture last year, however, it was the Rebel that found himself at the World Cup after a strong 2023.

Lolesio also ended up in France, coming back with plenty of confidence after his stint with Toulon

Stats
  • The ACT Brumbies have won seven of their last eight games against the Rebels
  • The Brumbies have only last once in their last six Super Rugby openers
  • The Rebels forced the most turnovers from tackles in 2023 (3.6 tackles)
Prediction

Brumbies by 8

Friday 23 February 10:00 pm AEDT – Western Force v Hurricanes at HBF Park, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport

FORCE (1-15): Marley Pearce, Tom Horton, Santiago Medrano, Thomas Franklin, Izack Rodda, Michael Wells (co-c), Carlo Tizzano, Will Harris, Nic White (co-c), Ben Donaldson, Chase Tiatia, Hamish Stewart, Sam Spink, Harry Potter, Max Burey

RESERVES: Ben Funnell, Charlie Hancock, Tiaan Tauakipulu, Lopeti Faifua, Tim Anstee, Ollie Callan, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, George Poolman

  • Nic White and Ben Donaldson both start in their debut games for the club
  • Izack Rodda has been named for his return from injury, but pulled up sore on Wednesday and is in doubt
  • Harry Potter starts on the wing after returning from England

HURRICANES (1-15): Xavier Numea, Asafo Aumua, Pasilio Tosi, Caleb Delany, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Devan Flanders, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Peter Lakai, Jordi Viljoen, Brett Cameron, Kini Naholo, Jordie Barrett, Billy Proctor, Josh Moorby, Ruben Love

RESERVES: James O'Reilly, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Tyrel Lomax, Justin Sangster, Brayden Iose, Cam Roigard, Riley Higgins, Salesi Rayasi

  • Jordi Viljoen has come from the clouds to start at nine after some strong trial form
  • Peter Lakai gets his chance to shine with Ardie Savea off to Japan
  • Billy Proctor plays his 50th Super Rugby game
Key Match Up

Will Harris v Peter Lakai

The two number eights have a point to prove in 2024.

Harris has headed west for a fresh opportunity, with the opening round game the perfect chance to make a statement.

Lakai meanwhile has been earmarked for higher honours and gets the opportunity to push as an All Blacks bolter

Stats
  • The Force have one of the best home records in the competition, winning six from seven in 2023
  • The Hurricanes have lost their last four games away from Sky Stadium, their longest streak since 2018.
  • The Hurricanes have won 11 out of their last 12 against the Force, although lost their last match in Perth in 2022
Prediction

Force by 2

Saturday 24 February 2:35 pm AEDT – Blues v Fijian Drua at Semenoff Stadium, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport

BLUES (1-15): Joshua Fusitu'a, Kurt Eklund, Angus Ta'avao, Sam Darry, Josh Beehre, Anton Segner, Dalton Papali'i (c), Hoskins Sotutu, Finlay Christie, Stephen Perofeta, Caleb Clarke, Harry Plummer, Rieko Ioane, Mark Tele'a, Zarn Sullivan

RESERVES: Ricky Riccitelli, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Laghlan McWhannell, Adrian Choat, Sam Nock, AJ Lam, Cole Forbes

  • Angus Ta'avao starts his first game for the club since moving north from the Chiefs
  • Josh Beehre replaces the injured Patrick Tuipulotu in the second half, with Dalton Papali'i captaining the side
  • Caleb Clarke and Mark Tele'a form a dangerous pairing on the wing

DRUA (1-15): Livai Natave, Tevita Ikanivere, Mesake Doge, Isoa Nasilasila, Leone Rotuisolia, Etonia Waqa, Ella Canakaivata, Meli Derenalagi (c), Frank Lomani, Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, Selestino Ravutaumada, Apisalome Vota, Iosefo Masi, Epeli Momo, Isikeli Rabitu

RESERVES: Mesulame Dolokoto, Emosi Tuqiri, Jone Koroiduadua, Mesake Vocevoce, Vilive Miramira, Peni Matawalu, Kemu Valetini, Tudraki Samusamuvodre

  • Young gun Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula starts at flyhalf after returning to Fiji in 2024
  • Epeli Momo adds some serious pace on the wing, joining the Drua from France
  • Meli Derenalagi captains the side, one of several returning Fijian World Cup stars from 2023
Key Match Up

Selestino Ravutaumada v Mark Tele'a

The pair of wingers were standout players from the 2023 World Cup.

Tele'a was one of the best players in Super Rugby Pacific and will look to back up his great year in 2023.

As for Ravutaumada, he continues to grow in confidence and is a key player to shutdown if the Blues wish to contain the Drua

Stats
  • The Blues are undefeated against the Drua, scoring over 30 points in both wins
  • The Blues have won 25 out of 26 games against non-NZ opposition
  • The Drua have won two of their last regular season matches, the first time they have achieved this in club history
Prediction

Blues by 12

Saturday 24 February 5:05 pm AEDT – Highlanders v Moana Pasifika at Forsyth Barr Stadium, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport

HIGHLANDERS (1-15): Daniel Lienert-Brown, Henry Bell, Saula Ma'u, Pari Pari Parkinson, Fabian Holland, Sean Withy, Billy Harmon (c), Hugh Renton, Folau Fakatava, Rhys Patchell, Jona Nareki, Sam Gilbert, Tanielu Tele'a, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens

  • Welsh international Rhys Patchell starts at flyhalf after making the trip to NZ
  • He is joined by Folau Fakatava, filling the void left by Aaron Smith
  • New recruits Timoci Tavatavanawai and Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens form a deadly back-three combo

RESERVES: Jack Taylor, Ayden Johnstone, Jermaine Ainsley, Oliver Haig, Nikora Broughton, Nathan Hastie, Cameron Millar, Jonah Lowe

PASIFIKA (1-15): James Lay (c), Sama Malolo, Sione Mafileo, Tom Savage, Samuel Slade, Miracle Faiilagi, Alamanda Motuga, Lotu Inisi, Ereatara Enari, William Havili, Viliami Fine, Julian Savea, Pepesane Patafilo, Nigel Ah Wong, Danny Toala

RESERVES: Samiuela Moli, Abraham Pole, Suetena Asomua, Allan Craig, Jacob Norris, Aisea Halo, D'Angelo Leuila, Anzleo Tuitavuki

  • James Lay captains the side in his club debut as one of several new faces
  • Julian Savea starts at inside centre, tied for the Super Rugby record for most tries
  • Ereatara Enari and William Havili retain their halves partnership as they look to improve on their 12th place finish.
Key Match Up

Sam Gilbert v Julian Savea

The sight of Julian Savea in the centres raised plenty of eyebrows as new coach Tana Umaga makes his mark.

Savea has the chance to be an absolute wrecking ball if they can feed him early and consistent ball.

As for Gilbert, he is quietly building a reputation as one of the best backs in the competition and will be leaned on to bring the Highlanders back into the finals

Stats
  • The Highlanders have won both encounters by exactly 17 points
  • They will be looking for three straight wins at home for the first time since 2021
  • Moana Pasifika will be out for back-to-back wins for the first time in their history
Prediction

Highlanders by 17

Saturday 24 February 7:35 pm AEDT – Queensland Reds v NSW Waratahs at Suncorp Stadium, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport and Channel 9

REDS (1-15): Alex Hodgman, Matt Faessler, Zane Nonggorr, Seru Uru, Ryan Smith, Liam Wright (co-c), Fraser McReight, Harry Wilson, Tate McDermott (co-c), Tom Lyngah, Mac Grealy, Hunter Paisami, Josh Flook, Suli Vunivalu, Jordan Petaia

RESERVES: Josh Nasser, Peni Ravai, Sef Fa'agase, Cormac Daly, John Bryant, Kalani Thomas, Harry McLaughlin-Phillips, Jock Campbell

  • Tom Lynagh wins the race to start at flyhalf, with Harry McLaughlin-Phillips set to debut off the bench
  • Alex Hodgman makes his club debut at loosehead prop
  • Jordan Petaia returns to fullback after spending the majority of the Wallabies Test season at outside centre.

WARATAHS (1-15): Angus Bell, Mahe Vailanu, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jed Holloway, Miles Amatosero, Fergus Lee-Warner, Charlie Gamble, Langi Gleeson, Jake Gordon (c), Tane Edmed, Dylan Pietsch, Joey Walton, Izaia Perese, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen

RESERVES: Theo Fourie, Hayden Thompson-Stringer, Dan Botha, Sam Thomson, Hugh Sinclair, Teddy Wilson, Jack Bowen, Harry Wilson

  • Miles Amatosero and Fergus Lee-Warner make their club defeats in the forwards
  • Lalakai Foketi's neck injury has seen Max Jorgensen elevated to the starting side at fullback, Jack Bowen coming onto the bench.
  • Mahe Vailanu starts at hooker with Dave Porecki (Achilles) still a week or two away.
Key Match Up

Langi Gleeson v Harry Wilson

The two red-headgear-wearing number eights have made their intentions clear to target each other in this contest.

Gleeson beat out Wilson to go to France, with this encounter a great chance for Wilson to send a message to Joe Schmidt.

As for Gleeson, he has his own motivations after a single appearance from the bench in the World Cup.

Stats
  • The Waratahs are out for back-to-back wins over the Reds for the first time since 2019
  • The NSW side have three straight wins against Australian teams, as many as they won across 17 games prior.
  • Reds flanker Fraser McReight won 22 turnovers in 2023, more than two times as many as any Waratahs player.
Prediction

Reds by 4

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