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Super Rugby Pacific Round Four preview

By Finn Morton
Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett. (Photos by Getty Images)

The fourth round of Super Rugby Pacific gets underway on Friday night with a highly anticipated blockbuster between the Hurricanes and Waratahs at Sky Stadium.

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Harbouring ambitions of challenging for the title this season, both teams will be eager to bounce back from losses in round three with a victory in Wellington.

But that’s only the first of three Trans-Tasman derbies in round four, which includes another match between two of the fiercest rivals in the history of the competition.

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Three Australian teams have travelled across the ditch for their matches against Kiwi opposition in round four, including an intriguing battle between the Highlanders and Force in Invercargill.

But the game of the round – it just has to be – is a Super Rugby Pacific final rematch between the Blues and champion Crusaders at Eden Park.

 

Hurricanes vs Waratahs

Kick-off: Friday, March 17 at 7:05pm NZT

Where: Sky Stadium, Wellington

Hurricanes: W-W-L

Waratahs: L-W-L

World-class backrower Ardie Savea is back for the Hurricanes after serving a one game suspension for a throat-slitting gesture against the Rebels in Super Round.

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After receiving a yellow card for a separate incident in round two, Savea made a gesture towards Melbourne Rebels halfback Ryan Louwrens.

The Hurricanes captain was cited for the incident, and was later ruled out of the teams blockbuster against the Blues in Wellington last weekend.

But Savea is back, and will undoubtedly be eager to make up for lost time against the NSW Waratahs in the opening match of round four.

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Following their first loss of the season last Saturday, the Hurricanes have made three changes to their starting XV.

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All Blacks Ardie Savea and Asafo Aumua have been included in the run on side, alongside debutant Kini Naholo – who scored six tries in one half for the Hasting Boys’ High First XV in 2017.

The Hurricanes started their season with two impressive wins over Australian opposition, and they’ll be eager to make it three from three against the Tahs.

New South Wales have named a strong side for their first Trans-Tasman derby of the season, which included an exciting outside backs trio.

Rising star Max Jorgensen will get his first opportunity to play fullback for the Tahs on Friday night, having been named in the No. 15 jersey while Ben Donaldson moves to flyhalf.

It might only be round four, but this match is shaping up as a crucial clash for both teams.

After starting their season with two strong wins, the Hurricanes risk falling to a 2-2 record if they don’t get the job done in front of their home fans.

As for the Waratahs, they’ve only won one match this season. In a competition as tight as Super Rugby Pacific, another loss could spell disaster for the Australian powerhouse.

 

Chiefs vs Rebels

Kick-off: Saturday, March 18 at 4:35pm NZT

Where: FMG Stadium, Hamilton

Chiefs: W-W-W

Rebels: L-L-W

The ladder-leading Chiefs will look to maintain their unbeaten start to the season against the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday, but it won’t come easy.

After starting their season with three big victories – including a 21-point win over the Crusaders in Christchurch – the Chiefs have made mass changes to their matchday squad.

The Chiefs will take the field at FMG Stadium without a number of their key players, including playmaker Damian McKenzie.

All Blacks Brad Weber, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane have also been omitted from Clayton McMillan’s plans for this week, while Samisoni Taukei’aho has been relegated to the bench.

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Loose forward Luke Jacobson will lead the team on Saturday night, and pack down in the back row alongside Samipeni Finau and Pita Gus Sowakula.

But the most intriguing selection is Bryn Gatland at flyhalf, while rising star Cortez Ratima is set to join him in the halves.

Fullback Shaun Stevenson has been the form player of Super Rugby Pacific so far this season, and the high-flying Chiefs will want his purple patch to continue against Melbourne.

As for the Rebels, they’re coming off a statement victory over the Waratahs at AAMI Park.

Playmaker Carter Gordon had his best match in a Rebels jersey, as the young star led the team to an impressive 34-27 victory at home.

While it was only their first win of the season, it certainly showed how dangerous this team can be when they get it right.

 

Blues vs Crusaders

Kick-off: Saturday, March 18 at 7:05pm NZT

Where: Eden Park, Auckland

Blues: W-L-W

Crusaders: L-W-L

History can’t be changed. Once a moment has come and gone, it can’t be altered – but for rugby teams and players, losses can be avenged.

While the Crusaders will go down in history as the 2022 champions, the Blues will have to bear the burden of being the runners up in that same season.

The Blues had won 15 matches in a row, but were slain by the champion Crusaders at Eden Park last year.

But their shot at redemption awaits them.

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Beauden Barrett and co will host the Crusaders at Eden Park once again on Saturday, in a rematch of last year’s Super Rugby Pacific final.

The Blues are coming off a hard-fought win over the Hurricanes in Wellington, while the Crusaders are desperate to get their season back on track.

After losing their opening match of the season 31-10 to the Chiefs in Christchurch, the Crusaders bounced back with a vintage display against the Highlanders in Super Round.

But a surprising loss to the Fijian Drua in round three has seen the title holders fall to eighth on the ladder.

For the Blues, Saturday night’s match gives them the opportunity to avenge their disappointing loss in last year’s final. It won’t change the result, but they can make a statement with a win.

As for the Crusaders, they’re desperate. Injuries have ruled out some of their All Blacks, but they won’t want to make any excuses.

This is a champion team, but it’s up to them to prove it once again.

 

Brumbies vs Moana Pasifika

Kick-off: Saturday, March 18 at 7:35pm AEDT

Where: GIO Stadium, Canberra

Brumbies: W-W-W

Moana: L-L-L

Brumbies legend Christian Leali’ifano will run out onto Canberra’s GIO Stadium for the first time as a Moana Pasifika player on Saturday.

Playmaker Leali’ifano will go down in history as one of the greatest players to have ever donned a Brumbies jersey.

But on Saturday night, he won’t be trying to help the Brumbies.

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Leali’ifano will lead Moana Pasifika out, as they look to end the Brumbies’ unbeaten start to the campaign.

The Brumbies were dealt a tough to the season, but have shown their class in response. After starting their campaign with a tough win over the Waratahs, they’ve gone on to beat the Blues and Reds.

The Brumbies mean business this season.

As for Moana, they’re yet to win a match this season – but sit second-last on the standings due to two losing points.

The Fijian Drua stunned the rugby world last week with a shocking win over the Crusaders, and Moana Pasifika will look to make their own history in Canberra.

 

Highlanders vs Force

Kick-off: Sunday, March 19 at 3:35pm NZT

Where: Rugby Park Stadium, Invercargill

Highlanders: L-L-L

Force: W-L-W

Some rugby fans may consider this to be a bit of a hot take, but the clash between the Highlanders and Force could be one of the games of the round.

This is a must-win for both teams.

The Highlanders have been quite disappointing this season. After starting their campaign with a 40-point loss to the Blues in Dunedin, the Landers conceded 50 against the Crusaders the following week

But after welcoming back some All Blacks for last Friday’s match against the Chiefs in Hamilton, the Dunedin-based team certainly looked better – if only for a half.

While Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson helped his side run away with the match in the second 40, the Highlanders had improved.

But their first win of the season continues to elude them.

Injuries have continued to plague their season ahead of round four, with former England playmaker Freddie Burns ruled out with a knee injury.

Instead, the Landers will turn to the experienced halves duo of Aaron Smith and Mitch Hunt as they search for their first victory of 2023.

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As for the Force, they’re coming off a hard-fought win over Moana Pasifika in Perth. It was their second win over the campaign after beating the Rebels 34-27 in round one.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the team from the west coast.

The Force were beaten 71-20 by the Queensland Reds in Super Round – and a loss like that can’t be forgotten overnight.

But a win over their New Zealand rivals would go a long way to making amends.

 

Reds vs Fijian Drua

Kick-off: Sunday, March 19 at 3:00pm AEST

Where: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Reds: L-W-L

Drua: W-L-W

The Fijian Drua’s stunning win over the Crusaders last week will go down in history as one of the greatest Super Rugby upsets of all time.

Debutant Kemu Valetini famously slotted a penalty after the 80th minute, to give his side an incredible 25-24 win over the defending champions.

It was a great win for the Drua, but they’ll want to keep the good times rolling in round four.

The Drua fell agonisingly short of a win in Brisbane last time out, having been beaten by the Reds 33-28. But they’re a very different team now – confidence will be high.

As for the Reds, they’re coming off a tough loss against Australian rivals the Brumbies in Canberra.

The Reds have only won one match this season, and will be desperate to bounce back with a win in front of their home fans.

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