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Super Rugby Pacific team of the week: Six Australians, eight Kiwis and one Samoan

By Ben Smith
Caleb Clarke of the Blues and Folau Fakatava of the Highlanders. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images and (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Super Rugby Pacific kicked off for 2024 with the Chiefs defeating the Crusaders 33-29 on Friday night, followed by wins for the Brumbies and Hurricanes.

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The Blues, Highlanders and Reds registered wins on Saturday as fans got the first look at new talent in the competition.

Six Australians, eight Kiwis and one Samoan made the cut for team of the week for their performances in round one.

Super Rugby Pacific team of the week for round one:

15 Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Highlanders)

In a round where all the New Zealand fullbacks starred, the Highlanders No 15 topped them all with a special performance to inspire his side to a win with two tries in his club debut. The former Blues outside back was a handful for Moana Pasifika every time he touched the ball with a knack of breaking first-up tackles and gaining extra metres. Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens was electric in round one but a real test awaits in week two with a grudge match with his old club the Blues in Super round, but for now, he can enjoy the hype after a brilliant showing.

14 Corey Toole (Brumbies)

Although he started on the left wing against the Rebels, it was hard to leave out the former Aussie 7s rep after his two try performance in Melbourne. Toole blazed the turf with untouchable speed twice in the opening twenty minutes, his first try was a piece of impressive skill with a chip and chase down a tight corridor. Whether Toole has the frame for higher honours with the Wallabies is unknown, but what is not debate is that his raw pace would be a real asset in space. He isn’t the type of winger that the Wallabies tend to look at, but neither was Mack Hansen and look how that turned out.

13 Josh Flook (Reds)

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It was a quiet opening week for centres across Super Rugby Pacific in terms of attacking production as wingers and fullbacks stole the headlines. Queensland’s centre Flook put in a big defensive shift against the Waratahs making 10 tackles and shutting down the Tahs midfield pair. Izaia Perese was limited to just four running metres on five carries while inside centre Joey Walton made 24 metres on six carries, while neither had any line breaks. Despite only having four carries himself, the Reds centre had a key line break and try assist for flanker McReight which sealed the game.

12 Hunter Paisami (Reds)

The Reds’ bruising midfielder stepped up with a solid outing in Brisbane in the 40-22 win over the Waratahs. He scored the opening try with a powerful carry close to the line, carrying a few defenders over with him. He managed to stop Wallaby centre Izaia Perese dead in his tracks twice with two big hits that set the tone early for the Reds. He was a workhorse in the Reds’ attack, taking 17 carries and was integral to the set-piece launch used in tandem with No 8 Harry Wilson to bring some punch through the middle.

11 Caleb Clarke (Blues)

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The All Black wing carried his pre-season form into round one as the Blues cruised to a 34-10 win over the Fijian Drua. He was typically strong with ball-in-hand with two line breaks, a try, eight defenders beaten and 92 running metres. All three of the Blues outside backs starred, with Mark Telea and Zarn Sullivan putting in solid performances along side Clarke.

10 Noah Lolesio (Brumbies)

The returning Wallaby flyhalf came with a point to prove against the Rebels and Carter Gordon. After a stint in France with Toulon, Lolesio played with confidence in a superior Brumbies side. His best play of the night was a switch play down the short side from a lineout maul. Rebels prop Sam Talakai was left isolated guarding the channel and Lolesio beat him around the outside before drawing the last man and finding winger Toole with a touch pass for a try. He kicked well early, landing his first four attempts at goal as the Brumbies racked up a 20-3 lead after 46 mins.

9 Folau Fakatava (Highlanders)

The Highlanders halfback put in a class performance that showed why he will be a serious contender for the All Blacks job. His long pass had zip and the service was fast as the home side utilised the dry conditions to score a couple of early tries. Provided the platform for the Highlanders attack and set-up a try for prop Saula Ma’u with a short ball. Produced a contender for pass of the season with a behind-the-back ball on the team try effort for Sam Gilbert.

8 Charlie Cale (Brumbies)

A toss up between Hoskins Sotutu of the Blues and Charlie Cale of the Brumbies. With just four Super caps to his name ahead of Friday’s opener, Cale gets the nod for his late double in Melbourne. Capitalising on a Rebels turnover, the No 8 raced away down the right-hand touchline before putting boot to ball for a foot race. Amazingly, the ball stayed in the field of play and Cale was able to launch for the touch down with his big right mitt. His second was a regulation walk-over. Around the park Cale added 14 carries and 14 tackles in an industrious performance.

7 Fraser McReight (Reds)

The Reds’ openside was fantastic against the Waratahs with an all-round performance in all facets of the game. He topped the carry count with 18 and the Reds’ tackle count with 11. He scored the final Reds’ try with a hard-working line outside centre Josh Flook to extend the lead to 40-22, but it was his two key turnovers that won the game by snuffing out two Waratahs’ possessions inside the Reds’ 22 in the last 10 minutes. He held up outside back Harry Wilson before forcing a holding on penalty and a two-man effort on Dylan Pietsch forced a collapsed maul.

6 Miracle Faiilagi (Moana)

The blindside flanker is becoming one of the best players on Moana Pasifika. In a losing side he provided explosive ball carrying on the edge, threatening a handful of times and breaking through once on 11 carries. Stepping in at halfback he had a try assist playing his fellow loose forward Jacob Norris into the gap with a nicely weighted cutout pass. He added eight tackles and was Moana Pasifika’s top lineout target with four takes.

5 Scott Barrett (Crusaders)

The All Black lock produced his usual standard of play to nearly pull off a comeback for the ages in Hamilton. Barrett’s influence on the game was sparked by running a hard line to crash over for the first try of the second half and lift the Crusaders into the contest. He was in the thick of it around the ruck and helped forced a couple of steals. Finished with seven carries, 13 tackles, and four lineout takes.

4 Caleb Delaney (Hurricanes)

The Hurricanes lock had a tackle turnover in combination with Peter Lakai early to snuff out a Force attack on the edge of the 22. The towering lock was a reliable lineout jumper feeding Viljoen with plenty of clean ball straight off the top. Showed some nice tip balls when he carried. Scored a sneaky try through the ruck late in the first half.

3 Reuben O’Neill (Chiefs)

It’s not often you see a tighthead prop breaking free from halfway but it was O’Neill who got the Chiefs started against the Crusaders on Friday night with a big break. After not being held, he got up for a second crack and showed some ball playing skill with a show and go on the fullback. The Chiefs scrum held up well against a strong Crusaders front row, they completed 100 per cent of their feeds.

2 Asafo Aumua (Hurricanes)

The powerful hooker had a typical display in Perth with physicality in defence, completing eight tackles, 10 carries, while winning turnovers. Produced a two-man sandwich with Jordie Barrett for a tackle turnover and snatched an overthrown throw for another. Aumua was a force in defence, chopping runners and punishing bodies. The lineout operated at 93 per cent and the scrum was dominant. Aumua added a try from close range with too much power for the Force. Had a lost pill inside the Force 22 in the first half but it didn’t end up costing the side.

1 Xavier Numia (Hurricanes)

The Hurricanes scrum was dominant despite conceding a free kick on the first one. They drew a penalty on nearly every scrummage, with the power too much to handle. Numia offered pressure at the breakdown, competing a few times and carried hard on attack. A solid performance from the loosehead in a dominant display by the Hurricanes’ pack.

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