The Super Rugby Pacific regular season came to a close last weekend, complete with some dramatic results to sign off the campaign with a bang.
Before the intriguing quarter-finals this weekend, Planet Rugby has selected its awards from the regular season.
Team of the season: Chiefs
This was a clear and obvious pick. The Waikato men were a cut above the rest during their regular season that included a club-record 10-game winning streak that was ended by the Reds – their only loss this season.
Finishing 11 points clear is a massive achievement for the Damian McKenzie-inspired team that proved they are so much more than just attacking flair. The Chiefs pack grew in influence throughout the tournament and regardless of who was selected, there was a clear understanding of the roles within the side. It has been a truly stunning season thus far.
Regular season ✅
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) June 4, 2023
Wooden spoon: Moana Pasifika
The club’s second season in the competition proved difficult again as they were often overpowered and struggled to get into most games. Head coach Aaron Mauger announced during the season that he would be stepping down from his position after several poor results.
Moana did manage to upset the Waratahs in the final round to at least have one consolation win. Regardless there is much to do for the side that has been outgrown by fellow newcomers the Fijian Drua.
Player of the season: Damian McKenzie
This campaign was nothing short of outstanding from the smiling assassin who has been above and beyond the best player in 2023.
McKenzie’s ability to exploit defensive lines has been outstanding whether he was taking the ball to the line, whipping a skip pass or dinking it in behind. He has it all and delivered the goods several times in key moments to win his team games.
He played both full-back and fly-half, finishing the regular season as the top points scorer. To put it plainly, McKenzie’s influence on the Chiefs and their success has surely booked him a ticket to the World Cup. It was a season of dreams.
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) April 29, 2023
Breakthrough player of the season: Cam Roigard
It was also a season of dreams for the Hurricanes star Cam Roigard, who took full advantage of the absence of the veteran TJ Perenara.
Roigard has clearly been learning from Perenara as the scrum-half notched up a ridiculous nine tries – an outstanding effort for a half-back. He is one of those players who has the knack for finding a gap or running a perfectly timed support line.
Outside of scoring, he is a very handy distributor with a decent kicking game. A season like this will definitely have put him on All Blacks head coach Ian Foster’s radar as a possible bolter.
Try of the season: Jake Upfield, Reds v Highlanders (Round 14)
There were many different contenders for the best try and whilst it was difficult to settle on one, this pearler from the Reds in Dunedin in Round 14 stood out.
It all starts with a line-out on their five-metre line which the side takes well, Fraser McReight peels off and plays his good mate Harry Wilson a short ball. The number eight was on a beautiful line so he bust through the defence and found himself in space.
Veteran James O’Connor worked very hard to get around Wilson to give a pass option as he approached one of the last defenders but instead, the number eight threw the most ridiculous of dummies.
Wilson shovelled it on moments later before Highlander Freddie Burns put in a big hit on O’Connor who somehow managed to stay in before offloading. Tate McDermott picked up the loose ball and two passes later Reds back-row replacement Jake Upfield was over for a very memorable try!
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) May 26, 2023
Story of the season: Fijian Drua qualify for play-offs
Whilst it was a difficult season for Moana Pasifika, it was a season for growth for fellow newcomers the Fijian Drua, who qualified for the play-offs for the first time in their history.
The side played more games at home this season, showing off their loyal fanbase in the process, making it a difficult place for teams to travel to. The Drua won six of their 14 matches in a season loaded with development.
Their quarter-final is against the Crusaders, who they managed to nick a win off this season. It will be another period of growth for the side in their first play-off appearance.
— JustinL (@Justin_275) June 3, 2023
Underachievers: Melbourne Rebels
There were moments of magic from the Rebels this season, the kind of moments that showcase what the team could be capable of, but unfortunately for the Melbourne men they did not live up to that.
With the explosion of Carter Gordon and the experience of Reece Hodge and Andrew Kellaway in their backline behind forwards including the likes of Brad Wilkin and others, one would expect this side at the very least to make the play-offs.
The squad is there but something is missing in Melbourne and head coach Kevin Foote will be desperate to find that missing piece by next season.
Underrated star of the season: Zach Kibirige (Western Force)
Several stars could have gone up for this award but Western Force winger Zach Kibirige stands out as the deserved winner.
The Englishman who signed from Wasps this season showed a remarkable ability to score tries consistently and was only three tries off the tournament leaders in a – at times – misfiring Western Force backline.
Huge credit to the flyer who could well kick on next season with the Perth-based side.
Biggest shock: Fijian Drua beating Crusaders (Round Three)
This game was one of the occasions where the loyal fans of the Drua really came to the fore as their side claimed a historic win over the Crusaders in Lautoka.
The game was a proper back-and-forth with the defending champions taking an early lead before the Drua powered back taking a lead of their own.
The Crusaders inevitably responded taking a narrow 24-22 lead until a magical moment. On his debut, replacement fly-half Kemu Valetini stepped up and nailed a penalty to win in front of a rampant home crowd.
It was a massive day in Fiji.
Top try scorers: Mark Telea (Blues), Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs) and Leicester Fainga’anuku (Crusaders) – 11
Top points scorer: Damian McKenzie (Chiefs) – 148
Most carries: Harry Wilson (Reds) – 191
Most clean breaks: Mark Telea (Blues) – 22
Most defenders beaten: Mark Telea (Blues) – 86
Line-outs won: Jed Holloway (Waratahs) – 77
Metres carried: Tom Wright (Brumbies) – 1,569
Offloads: Monty Ioane (Rebels) – 26
Tackles made: Fraser McReight (Reds) – 188