Five bold Super Rugby Pacific predictions including a shake-up in hierarchy and Fijian Drua

Dylan Coetzee
Captains of the Super Rugby Pacific teams with the trophy.

Captains of the Super Rugby Pacific teams with the trophy.

The 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season is finally here with the opening round set to get underway this weekend as teams push for glory.

There have been many changes in the build-up to the tournament including alterations in coaching positions and shifts in playing personnel for all teams.

Before the tournament gets underway, we tried our hand at making bold predictions for the upcoming season.

Fijian Drua to reach semi-finals at least

Easily one of the most improved teams in the last couple of seasons since joining the competition. The Fijian Drua have often impressed but perhaps at times struggle to string together a good run of results. Last season the side managed a seventh-placed finish resulting in a quarter-final berth that saw them fall short against the eventual champions, the Crusaders.

The mood around Fijian rugby at the moment is very upbeat after the side won over so many hearts with their valiant Rugby World Cup campaign that included a historic win over the Wallabies. Many of those players find themselves in the Drua squad with several upcoming stars joining them.

There is no doubting the X-factor and talent but it is more about whether the Drua can build momentum in their season by producing consecutive 80-minute performances. It will be fascinating to see but we believe the Drua are only going to improve and a last-four spot is well within reach.

Crusaders to fall down Super Rugby Pacific hierarchy

In Christchurch, winning is everything and has been the minimum standard for the entirety of the Scott Robertson era that included a perfect seven titles from as many opportunities. However, with the great rugby mind taking up his place with the All Blacks, the Crusaders are set to go through changes into a new era with Rob Penney taking over.

Penney is an experienced coach with knowhow within the Crusaders and Canterbury structures from earlier in his career as well as time in Ireland, Japan and Australia, but he is left with massive shoes to fill and he will be well aware of that.

Inevitably there are going to be some teething issues as the players adjust to a different game model, training and coaching methods. The key for Penney is to find a way to win whilst everyone acclimatises.

There is already an injury to superstar Will Jordan who is out for the entire campaign, making the beginning of tenure even more difficult. There is no Richie Mo’unga at the Crusaders anymore meaning the side will need someone to step up and be the general in his absence.

We feel the changes will be challenging to grasp whilst winning and the competitive nature of teams like the Blues and Chiefs will see the Crusaders fall off their pedestal.

Stephen Perofeta to mature into a game-winner

The playmaker has operated magnificently at times in tandem with veteran Beauden Barrett over the last couple of seasons but will have to do it without his partner in crime this time around.

Whilst Barrett’s absence is an obvious loss for the Aucklanders it does present a perfect opportunity for Perofeta to take the next step and mature into the general of the team. The star, who will likely settle back at 10, is not short of talent with a complete kicking game to match his attacking nous. He has had a small taste of Test rugby and he will be determined to put his name into lights to get back in the black jersey.

There are multiple reasons Perofeta could shine, firstly the combination of Vern Cotter coming in as head coach and Springboks attack coach Tony Brown helping out the Blues could catapult the star’s ability to get the most out of his team-mates.

That brings us to the second point of how loaded with X-factor the Blues backline is, from World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year Mark Telea to Caleb Clarke and the experienced Rieko Ioane.

Perofeta absolutely has to be looking to step up this season.

Moana Pasifika will deliver upsets as Julian Savea becomes solo all-time scorer

It has not been as easy of a start to Super Rugby Pacific life for Moana Pasifika as it was for the Drua but the side has continued to grow and has made some clever signings with the likes of Sekope Kepu and Christian Lealiifano running out for them.

Their latest signing is the competition’s equal all-time top try-scorer Julian Savea, who as any rugby fan will know – when in his prime – was one of the best wings the game has seen. Interestingly, and rather astutely, ‘The Bus’ has been lining up at inside centre in pre-season which could be the positional switch to get him back to some of his form of old.

Playing him at 12 gets his hands on the ball so much more and as an ageing player he maybe does not have the pace he once had but no doubt the older of the Saveas will be a menace in contact.

He is level with Israel Folau on 60 tries in the competition and not only will he take the record for himself but inspire his new team to some impressive victories.

Australian sides to be more competitive with Western Force the surprise package

Perhaps the more bold of the predictions considering the well-publicised state of the game in that country but there could well be a turn of fortunes especially with so many of their New Zealand counterparts going through coaching changes.

The Brumbies have been above and beyond the best Australian side over the last two years followed by the Waratahs and the Reds. All three of these teams should qualify for the play-offs given their mix of Test and emerging talent. However, there could be one surprise package in the form of the Western Force.

The Perth outfit signalled their intent with some key signings including veteran Nic White, who would almost double up as a player-coach to the younger and more inexperienced stars in the west.

Following not far behind was one of the shining lights of the Wallabies’ Rugby World Cup, Ben Donaldson, who is a complete player at 10 or 15. It is a massive acquisition for the Western Force and between him and White there is potential to revive the side’s fortunes. Throw in a free-scoring Harry Potter fresh from Leicester Tigers in the Premiership and there could well be a team good enough for the play-offs.

READ MORE: Scott Robertson reveals the Springboks-style ‘evolution’ that could benefit the All Blacks