Seven players to watch in Super Rugby Pacific including a former England star

David Skippers
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Mark Telea of the Blues, Brad Shields of the Hurricanes and Taniela Tupou of the Melbourne Rebels.

With the start of this year’s Super Rugby Pacific just a week away, we take a look at some of the players who we expect to light up the popular southern hemisphere tournament.

There have been some significant changes to most of the squads as several players have made moves. Here is a list of men that we think will make their presence felt during the upcoming campaign.

Mark Telea

The Blues and All Blacks flyer comes into this year’s competition after enjoying a stellar 2023 for both club and country and his excellent international form saw him being rewarded with World Rugby’s Breakthrough Player of the Year award.

It was a similar story for the Blues in Super Rugby Pacific last year as Telea was one of the tournament’s leading attackers who proved a real handful for opposing defences throughout the season.

Telea finished as the second highest try-scorer (12), made the most clean breaks (24), beat the most defenders (104), was third highest for metres gained (1,330) and fifth highest for offloads made (21).

While that is a tough act to follow, we wouldn’t bet against the 27-year-old racking up similar attacking statistics as he helps the Blues in their bid to win the tournament.

Brad Shields

After last playing for the Hurricanes in 2018, the former England international back-row forward has returned to the Wellington-based franchise and will have the added responsibility of captaincy on his shoulders.

The 32-year-old, who has already represented the Hurricanes in more than 100 matches, is no stranger to the leadership role as he captained the side at Super Rugby level in 2018 after regular skipper Dane Coles missed the entire season due to injury.

Shields also skippered the Hurricanes when they held the British and Irish Lions to a 31-31 draw during their tour to New Zealand in 2017.

He has big boots to fill as he comes into the Hurricanes set-up as a direct replacement for All Blacks star and current World Rugby Player of the Year Ardie Savea, who will not be in action in Super Rugby Pacific in 2024 as he will be plying his trade in Japan. Shields will have to hit the ground running as a player and a captain.

Levi Aumua

After catching the eye with several outstanding performances for Moana Pasifika during the previous two instalments of Super Rugby Pacific, the 29-year-old has made the move to the defending champions, the Crusaders.

Aumua made his mark at Moana through his brilliance on attack and despite his former team’s struggles, he continually impressed with ball in hand. He finished the 2023 Super Rugby campaign with the third most defenders beaten (71) as well as in ninth position for clean breaks (15) and offloads (19).

With those excellent attacking statistics, one would expect Aumua to improve now that he has joined the ranks of the 12-time champions.

Aumua’s fine performances has already been rewarded with a call-up to the All Blacks XV during their tour of Europe in 2022 and if he continues with his excellent form at the Crusaders he could be included in the senior All Blacks side this year.

Taniela Tupou

Although the Melbourne Rebels are in a battle for survival after going into voluntary administration at the end of last month, their fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of the man known as the ‘Tongan Thor’ playing for their club.

The 27-year-old burst onto the scene as a teenager while still a schoolboy rugby player and became an internet sensation due to his barnstorming attacking runs and huge defensive hits.

He made his Super Rugby debut for the Reds at the age of 19 and spent the next seven seasons at the Brisbane-based outfit and went from strength to strength – making his Test debut for Australia in 2017 and soon becoming one of the world’s best props.

Apart from his excellence on attack and defence, Tupou is also a solid scrummager but will be keen to make a big impact at the Rebels after a forgetful World Cup campaign in which his participation was restricted to just one appearance due to a hamstring injury.

Mark Nawaqanitawase

Much has been said and written about the young Wallabies flyer in recent months after it was confirmed at the end of last year that Nawaqanitawase would be defecting to rugby league to join NRL club the Sydney Roosters from 2025 on a two-year deal.

That means that all eyes will be on the 23-year-old as he will be expected to be at the forefront of the Waratahs’ attacking onslaught in this year’s competition.

Although Australia had a horrendous tournament at last year’s World Cup in France, Nawaqanitawase performed well in a personal capacity and he was arguably their best player at the global showpiece.

A brilliant attacker, blessed with great aerial skills, plenty of pace and who knows his way to the try-line, Nawaqanitawase will be determined to leave rugby union on a high with an excellent Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

Tevita Ikanivere

The Fijian Drua’s addition to Super Rugby Pacific has worked wonders for the game in Fiji as their national team has become more competitive in the Test arena while several new players have come to the fore as new heroes for rugby fans in that country.

Ikanivere is one such player whose game has come on in leaps and bounds over the past two years – since the Drua was added to the competition – and he is now one of the tournament’s best hookers.

The 24-year-old was in excellent form at last year’s World Cup in France and after starting amongst Fiji’s replacements when the global tournament started, his superb form off the bench saw him finishing as their first choice number two when they lost narrowly to England in the quarter-finals.

His brilliant World Cup form came after he also shone at Super Rugby Pacific level, where he impressed with attacking runs and solid defence while also excelling in the execution of his core duties as a hooker. The Drua fans will be hoping for more of that in 2024.

Julian Savea

And last but certainly not least, we have a former All Blacks superstar who, despite being in the twilight of his career, will still be highly motivated to do well after making the move from the Hurricanes to Moana Pasifika.

When on song, the man who is better known as “The Bus” is one of the most devastating attackers in the game who has the ability to destroy the tightest defences with his destructive running style once he builds up a head of steam.

Although Moana have battled in Super Rugby Pacific, the addition of the 33-year-old to their ranks should boost the team as his experience should prove invaluable as they aim to improve on their two previous campaigns when they finished at the bottom of the standings on each occasion.

He comes into this year’s competition level at the top of the tournament’s all-time try-scoring charts with 60 five-pointers – along with former Wallabies and Waratahs star Israel Folau – and will be determined to add to his tally to be the sole record holder.

READ MORE: Injury-plagued All Blacks star to miss the start of the Crusaders’ Super Rugby Pacific title defence