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Super Rugby Pacific takeaways: Josh Ioane honorary MVP, Chiefs at most risk

By Ben Smith
Salesi Rayasi of the Hurricanes and Josh Ioane of the Chiefs. (Photos by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images/Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The final week of the Super Rugby Pacific season saw the final playoff spot secured by the Fijian Drua after a big win over the Melbourne Rebels.

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Despite thumping Moana Pasifika the night before, Saturday’s result at Churchill Park put the nail in the coffin for the Crusaders’ season. The Hurricanes secured the top spot after comprehensively putting away the Highlanders, the Blues beat the Chiefs, the Brumbies secured third.

Ahead of the quarter-finals, here are the takeaways from the final round of regular season action.

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Josh Ioane the Hurricanes’ honorary MVP this week

The Chiefs’ first five sliced through the Blues defence in the final minute of the game to deny the home side the crucial three-try bonus point.

The late drama handed the Hurricanes the number one seed and a potential home final down the line.

The Blues were understandably kicking themselves over the late try leaving a sour taste despite beating another top four side 31-17. Both Hoskins Sotutu and Patrick Tuipulotu were disappointed despite the win.

But the Hurricanes will enjoy the gift given by Ioane, that is of course, if they can get through the next two weeks starting with the Rebels.

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Crusaders season comes to an end but they’ll be back

For the first time since 2015 the Crusaders will miss the playoffs. After a run of seven straight titles, Super Rugby is guaranteed to have a new champion in 2024.

It was bound to happen sooner or latter and while many didn’t pick the Crusaders to miss the playoffs entirely, this season makes sense after losing so many influential players not to mention Scott Robertson. There was always going to be a rebuild and Rob Penney is not solely to blame.

It won’t take long for the Crusaders to get back to the top of the mountain either. Their recruitment and development system is the strongest in the country. The Crusaders U20 won the domestic title this year with players like openside flanker Johnny Lee, hooker Manu Letiu, halfback Ben O’Donovan, first five Cooper Gran, fullback Isaac Hutchinson all making New Zealand U20s.

They’ve got former Westlake centre James Cameron who starred at World Schools last year and Palmerston North Boys hooker Eli Oudenryn, a gifted player not too dissimilar to a young Dane Coles. Those were two of the most exciting recruits in the country.

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Then there are the players that gained valuable experience and who look to be future Super Rugby stars, Chay Fihaki, Noah Hotham, George Bell, Jamie Hannah.

The Crusaders’ machine is always moving to produce another dominant Super Rugby side.

Salesi Rayasi becoming another Ben Lam

The Hurricanes’ winger is one of the most talented players in the country, demonstrated by his hat-trick against the Highlanders last night in his 50th game.

As an attacking weapon, Rayasi has a combination of gifts that make him a unique player. His offloading game is the best in New Zealand, with basketball-style passing and point guard vision. Combine that with great footwork, power, and size, at his best he is an unstoppable force in Super Rugby.

It’s astounding that he doesn’t command a starting role every week. The challenge is that Kini Naholo has been on form also, and it’s just one of the many positions where the Hurricanes enviable depth this year shines.

The former New Zealand Sevens rep is a dynamic finisher but there are questions on defence that seem to hold him back. That seemed to be the knock on Ben Lam too, the former Hurricanes’ try-scoring machine who ended up in France.

If Rayasi is to end up like Lam it will be a shame. With ball-in-hand Rayasi would cause plenty of damage at Test level and there isn’t another winger like him who has the full repertoire.

Chiefs at risk of early exit

Of all the top four teams, the Chiefs are at the most risk of getting bundled at the quarter-final stage in the fourth vs fifth playoff.

They have drawn the Queensland Reds, a team that has had their number recently. They secured a 25-19 win in Brisbane early in the season off the back of a masterclass by Fraser McReight, and were able to beat them in New Plymouth last season by 25-22.

The Chiefs won the quarter-final last year by 29-20, a result that was much closer than it should have been.

The Reds are a much better outfit this year, with a skilled backline running smoothly under Les Kiss’ coaching staff while the Chiefs don’t have the form or momentum they had last year. They’ve limped their way through the end of this season with back-to-back losses to the Hurricanes and Chiefs.

Of all the quarter-final match ups, this one looks the closest on paper with the Reds a good chance of shaking up the final four.

 

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

12 Comments
N
Nickers 20 days ago

Rayasi is now 7 or 8 years into his pro career, albeit one that started when he was young. At 27, as an outside back in NZ, he is probably closer to heading overseas than he is to the ABs.

To get on the selectors radar he needs to have a great NPC, then another great SR campaign in 2025. Ben Lam was never really able to do that, he was a feast or famine type player. Three great games, then goes missing for the next 3.

J
Jasyn 21 days ago

Josh Ioane has been great for opposition teams all season. The sooner the Chiefs unload him to MP the better.

T
Troy 21 days ago

His deficiencies in defence must be major and beyond rebuilding because on attack he has a unique set of skills matched only by a combination of Mark Telea, Shaun Stevenson and Etene Nanai Seturo. His aerial and kicking game is next level and he displays a contempt for one on one situations. We've become obsessed with our no. 11 being a power weapon ignoring the better multi faceted option. Mark Telea is helping to change that mind set, Salesi Rayasi would advance that too.

A
Andrew 21 days ago

Chiefs miss a tight 5 of serious grunt. Missing Guzzlers.scrum power and the Blues have spent the last.few yrs nicking their props. Will have to start better than recent matches to stop the Reds.

D
David 21 days ago

Surprised Ireland haven’t already nabbed Rayasi. So much competition in the back three in all NZ Super teams that you need a coach who believes in you and will select you regularly.

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