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'There's going to be a shock': Moana Pasifika star's message to teammates for Crusaders clash

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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After two rescheduled draws and a Covid-enforced postponement, Moana Pasifika will finally begin their Super Rugby Pacific journey on Friday night.

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Initially, the new expansion franchise was supposed to play its inaugural Super Rugby match against the Brumbies at Mt Smart Stadium before travel restrictions forced a rejigged draw that pitted Moana Pasifika against the Blues in the season-opener.

That fixture would have been a momentous occasion given the two sides are cross-town rivals, but a Covid outbreak within the Moana Pasifika camp in their Queenstown bubble prevented them from taking to the field in Dunedin on February 18.

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Player safety concerns as a result of their 10-day isolation period also meant that their second round match against the Chiefs was also postponed, meaning Moana Pasifika have had to wait until this weekend to make their Super Rugby Pacific debut.

They couldn’t have asked for tougher competition to open their competition account against either, as Moana Pasifika are scheduled to face the Crusaders, the reigning five-time Super Rugby and Super Rugby Aotearoa champions, in Dunedin.

That alone makes this fixture a daunting enough task for Moana Pasifika, but it becomes even more difficult when you consider the Crusaders are set to welcome the return of All Blacks stars Richie Mo’unga and Codie Taylor on Friday.

Even if the Crusaders, who remain unbeaten thus far this season, rest and rotate their leading players who have already featured this year, as has been suggested by assistant coach Scott Hansen, Moana Pasifika will be at long odds to score an improbable win.

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Their 61-7 pre-season thumping at the hands of the Chiefs is reflective of the inexperience within their squad – more half of their roster have never played at Super Rugby level.

As such, plenty of players will make their competition debuts come Friday in a game where a lopsided scoreline against the competition heavyweights and rustiness from Moana Pasifika is expected after exactly one month without a match.

However, while most view that as an insurmountable challenge, Moana Pasifika halfback Ereatara Enari remains highly optimistic about what lies ahead for his side this weekend.

“Couldn’t go much better, I reckon,” Enari told media with a grin when asked on Monday about how daunting it is for Moana Pasifika to make their Super Rugby Pacific debut against the Crusaders.

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“A lot of us are so excited to play one of the best teams in New Zealand, and probably the world.

“A lot of our boys are debuting Super Rugby in this game, probably over 50 percent of our team, so it’s a huge opportunity for us, firstly to debut in Super Rugby, but also against such a strong squad.”

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Moana Pasifika assistant coach Filo Tiatia echoed Enari’s sentiments as he described Friday’s fixture as “a great opportunity” for his side despite the challenges they have encountered in recent weeks.

“What a better way to actually have our debut game against the Crusaders, one of the best teams in the world, and we’re just grateful that we’re part of an awesome competition filled with legacy,” Tiatia said.

“We’re just starting, and we under no illusions about how challenging it’s going to be, but the reality is that we can only put our best foot forward and keep growing and keep learning, so we’re excited, as Ere mentioned before.”

Formerly a Crusader himself, having won five titles with the franchise between 2017 and 2021, Enari is one of the few Moana Pasifika players with Super Rugby experience to his name.

That makes the former New Zealand U20 representative a crucial member of the Moana Pasifka set-up whose professional knowledge and expertise will be invaluable for the season ahead.

With that in mind, Enari offered a message to his less-experienced teammates about what to expect when they run out onto Forsyth Barr Stadium this weekend.

“We’ve talked a little bit about it, that you won’t understand what it feels like until you’re out there. There’s going to be a shock to the system at some point, and it’s how we respond to that, that’s going to be the biggest thing,” he said.

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“My view on how I want our men to run out there is just to enjoy every moment. You can’t overthink things when it’s such a big occasion, one of the biggest moments in your career.

“If you overthink it, you might not enjoy it, so I just want them to enjoy every moment out there, no matter what it looks like to them, and that’ll be a win for us, I think.”

Similarly, Tiatia said that success for Moana Pasifika this weekend would be to simply take part in the match after weeks of delay and disruption.

“I think just to get at the starting line is success for us. It’s been 26 years that a Pacific team [hasn’t been in Super Rugby],” he said.

“We saw the Drua, they debuted a couple of weeks ago, and that was a very proud moment for our people, and it’s no different for us this coming Friday for our supporters, particularly our families, but also different people I haven’t [from] in such a long time that have reconnected. They’re excited.

“Knowing our Pasifika people, they’ll have some words of encouragement, but also some strong opinions as well, as our people are.”

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