Who will enter the Super Rugby Pacific season with the best pre-season form?
While new team Moana Pasifika were set to play the Blues to open the season, positive Covid results in the former’s camp mean that game has been postponed – although a lack of space in the calendar raises the question of when that fixture will actually be fitted into the schedule.
It’s a big blow for Moana Pasifika, who many have been giddily waiting to see take the field this year for the first time in a competition game, but the other perhaps more pressing flow-on effect will be the tournament’s newest side will face off in Round 2 against a Chiefs team that will have two additional games under their belt.
Moana Pasifika were set to take on the Highlanders over the weekend in their second pre-season match but that game was understandably cancelled too. As such, the solitary match the new team have under their belts is the 61-7 thrashing handed out by the Chiefs last weekend. In that match, the Chiefs rolled out a mostly second-string side, as is often the case in early pre-season games. With their All Blacks back in action, as well as their first-stringers, plus the extra games they’ll have played by the time the second round of the competition rolls around, the Chiefs will go into their match against Moana Pasifika as heavy, heavy favourites. All in all, it doesn’t bode well for Moana Pasifika’s introduction to the competition.
In fact, it’s the Chiefs who have that most successful pre-season – not that it counts for anything down the line.
After belting Moana Pasifika last week, the Chiefs managed two half-game wins over the Highlanders and Blues in their second pre-season run-around. Their final tally for the pre-season shows 92 points scored and just 19 conceded over 170 minutes of action.
The Highlanders were New Zealand’s next most impressive side throughout the pre-season, holding on for a 20-19 win over the Crusaders last week after going into the break up 17-7. This weekend, in their two halves against the Chiefs and the Blues, the Highlanders were bested 5-14 in their first clash but nabbed a 21-19 win in the second. The Highlanders, in comparison to other sides, effectively used all their top players in the weekend just gone and will enter the proper season knowing most of their men have at least some minutes after their belts.
Although the Blues went down in both half-games this weekend, they managed a 28-21 win over the Hurricanes in their first pre-season match, giving precious game time to new recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in all three encounters.
After last weekend’s loss, the Hurricanes scored a come-from-behind victory over the Crusaders – who had many of their All Blacks at their disposal – with the match finishing 27-24. The defeat marked the Crusaders’ second of the pre-season, after their loss to the Highlanders last weekend.
The game between the Chiefs and Moana Pasifika aside, however, every single match was a close contest – as was the case throughout last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.
Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan said it best when summing up his side’s performances – and that of their NZ competitors’ – throughout the pre-season:
“It’s always pleasing to be on the right side of the points table in any fixture but what I saw today was three pretty evenly matched teams. It was much the same as last year, there’s fine margins between each team and so you’ve just got to prepare well.”
Meanwhile, across the Tasman Sea, the Waratahs have been the best performers in the lead-up to the competition kick-off, scoring solid wins over both the Reds (21-14) and the Brumbies (24-14). Again, while pre-season form doesn’t count for much, the results do bode well for the Waratahs, who weren’t able to nab any victories in 2021.
Super Rugby Pacific will kick off on Friday night.
Round 1 fixtures:
Friday – Waratahs v Fijian Drua
Saturday – Chiefs v Highlanders, Crusaders v Hurricanes, Reds v Rebels
Sunday – Brumbies v Force
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