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The favourite for the Most Valuable Player in this year's Super Rugby Pacific

By RugbyPass
(Photos by Chris Hyde/Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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With the first-ever edition of Super Rugby Pacific just around the corner, the RugbyPass Round Table writers from New Zealand and Australia – Alex McLeod (AM), Ben Smith (BS), Tom Vinicombe (TV), Nick Turnbull (NT), Jack O’Rourke (JO) and Jordan King (JK) – deliver their verdicts on how the upcoming 2022 season will pan out.

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Richie Mo’unga has been the Most Valuable Player of Super Rugby Aotearoa by some distance over the last two seasons, while Queensland Reds flyhalf James O’Connor was voted the best player in Super Rugby Australia last year by the fans.

With Mo’unga sitting out the starting rounds of the competition and O’Connor currently under a Covid cloud, will there be a new MVP in the first edition of Super Rugby Pacific?

Who will end the season as Super Rugby MVP?

AM: It has to be Richie Mo’unga, doesn’t it? Yes, he won’t feature at all for the Crusaders for at least the first three weeks of the competition due to a contractual clause, but his pedigree at this level is undeniable.

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The Christchurch-based franchise have won five titles in the last five years, and two individuals have been absolutely vital to their championship-winning campaigns: head coach Scott Robertson and Mo’unga.

You have to wonder just how successful the Crusaders would have been in recent times without either of those two.

Mo’unga has been derided for his inability to replicate his Super Rugby feats in an All Blacks jersey, but his playmaking brilliance has been central to the Crusaders’ glut of trophies, and it wouldn’t surprise to see him shine in another title run this season.

If he is out of action for longer than anticipated, then either one of Beauden Barrett or Rieko Ioane could go close as the hype surrounding the Blues continues to grow.

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However, my money for this year’s Super Rugby Pacific MVP is on Mo’unga.

BS: Beauden Barrett is set for a big year with the Blues as he embarks on what could be the last couple years of his New Zealand career.

The light at the end of the tunnel, being the 2023 Rugby World Cup, is in sight, so knowing that milestone is near may bring out his best again.

His first two years with the Auckland club were non-committal, enjoying his time off in 2020 and heading to Japan for a sabbatical in 2021. It’s now time to give his all to the club.

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Refreshed from his time off, he was also back in top form with the All Blacks last year before his concussion against Ireland. Barrett is primed to lead the Blues to the promised land and dominate Super Rugby once again.

Whether Richie Mo’unga is in the conversation again depends on how long he sits out of the early stages of the season with the Crusaders.

If he is back sooner than later, he will definitely be in the mix for Super Rugby’s MVP as no player shines at Super Rugby level like Mo’unga.

TV: If anyone needed a reminder of what Rieko Ioane is capable of, the converted midfielder brought it in spades in 2021 and was a constant menace for opposition defenders, whether at Super Rugby or international level.

With the Blues boasting the depth they now possess after a few solid years of recruitment, you suspect they’ll push the Crusaders all the way this year and Ioane will play a big part in that potential success.

Given Ioane is now really only entering his third season playing full-time in the midfield, this is when you suspect the 24-year-old is ready to perform week-in and week-out and lead by example.

With other X-factor players like Beauden Barrett, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Caleb Clarke in the back line, defences may have to invest less time in focussing on Ioane, which could open the door for him to run rampant.

NT: I can’t split Michael Hooper for the Waratahs, Sam Cane for the Chiefs or Ardie Savea of the Hurricanes. Each are so important to their respective teams and for their teams’ futures beyond 2022.

I don’t think any of them will be genuine title contenders this season, but if either side is going to win a title within the next five years, it will come off the back of the legacy each of these extraordinary players leave on their younger playing group.

I actually expect each to take their own performances to a new level, and from this three, our competition will find its MVP.

JO: Tongan Thor. Reds powerhouse Taniela Tupou is arguably the world’s best prop right now and will soon command almost $1 million a season.

It’s crazy to think a prop could win Super Rugby MVP though, isn’t it? Unless…

JK: You’d be silly to go past Richie Mo’unga given his track record and influence with the red and blacks. Some may point to his unavailability in the opening rounds to work against him in claiming this award, but I think the opposite is true.

If the Crusaders get off to a slow start, I can think of no better player to have back in the mix and help right the ship.

Should they get off to a flyer, though, imagine how hard it would be to game plan for an in-form team with arguably the greatest Super Rugby player there’s ever been yet to be inserted and waiting to feed off that groove.

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