Super Rugby Pacific Team of the Week: Semi-final bound sides dominate selection

Dylan Coetzee
Super Rugby Pacific: Split with Sowakula, Telea and Valetini

The 2023 Super Rugby Pacific completed its first play-off stage last weekend as the top eight sides slugged it out in some enthralling quarter-finals.

Two of the games were one-sided whilst the others were tightly-contested with a held up decision the difference between the Brumbies and Hurricanes.

Following the action, Planet Rugby selects our team of the week.

Team of the Week

15 Tom Wright (Brumbies): There were several good performances from full-backs including Chiefs star Shaun Stevenson and Crusaders speedster Will Jordan, but Wright both scored and assisted what turned out to be crucial points for his side. The Wallaby ran the ball 120 metres, beat three defenders and broke the line once. It was a special performance from a consistent star.

14 Mark Telea (Blues): 11 defenders beaten gives a clear indication of how dangerous the All Black was against the Waratahs. It was another brilliant outing from the wing who is in the form of his life. Telea also notched up 117 metres as he danced his way through the defensive line twice. He could well be the most in-form wing in the world right now. Chiefs’ Emoni Narawa deserves a mention for his efforts, as does the Reds’ Suliasi Vunivalu who crossed for a brace.

13 Len Ikitau (Brumbies): The centre was one of the key men for the Canberra side in their narrow win and his efforts will have put him firmly in the mind of Wallabies boss Eddie Jones. Ikitau both scored and assisted tries, beating four defenders in the process. On defence, he was a rock, making 15 tackles and winning three turnovers in a ridiculously good performance. Rieko Ioane of the Blues was good but could not reach the same heights as the Aussie.

12 Bryce Heem (Blues): It was another good week for the Blues centre, who was vital for the backline’s synergy as he filled in and mopped up wherever required. He made a boatload of carries, including three offloads, whilst on defence he made nine tackles. His link-up play was part of a lot of the good done by the Aucklanders at Eden Park.

11 Kini Naholo (Hurricanes): One cannot help but enjoy the likeness of the young star to his brother Waisake, and that was on show again last weekend. Naholo is powerful, fast and has try-scoring instinct. He crossed for a try again and beat four defenders in the game whilst making nine tackles and two turnovers. His tournament may be over but we are still to see the best of this youngster.

10 Damian McKenzie (Chiefs): It was a really close decision with Brumbies’ Jack Debreczeni having played out of his socks but the smiling assassin’s 19 points earned him selection. McKenzie was well-watched by the Reds but still managed to make just short of 100 metres with ball in hand. His kicking game was good, especially from the tee. He continues to find a way to perform and it is his comprehensive skill set that continues to impress.

9 Nic White (Brumbies): The veteran was clearly inspired during his last home game for the club and produced a top performance that edges Blues’ Finlay Christie to selection this week. The scrum-half was pure in his distribution that included a try assist whilst also kicking well. Vocal and always rallying the troops, it was a memorable outing for the Wallaby.

The forwards

8 Pita Gus Sowakula (Chiefs): This was another position with loads of top performers. Reds’ Harry Wilson was relentlessly brilliant again, but it was the hard-working Chief who gets the nod as it was his try that proved decisive in the quarter-final.

7 Fraser McReight (Reds): It was very tempting to select Blues skipper Dalton Papali’i or the rampant Hurricane Ardie Savea, who were brilliant for their sides, but it was the sheer work-rate of the Wallaby that edged them out. McReight made a mind-boggling 28 tackles. Week in, week out this year he has defended like a man possessed and he deserves full credit despite losing the clash.

6 Rob Valetini (Brumbies): One of the key components of what the Brumbies do and how they found their way over the line. The Wallaby has been one of the most consistent performers in Super Rugby Pacific over the last two seasons and stood up as expected in the knockout phase. Chiefs back-row Samipeni Finau deserves mention for his physical performance.

5 Ned Hanigan (Waratahs): One of the few players to shine for his side but was brilliant as he scored a try and operated brilliantly in the line-out. Defensively he was a rock, making all of his tackles that tallied to 14 whilst making one turnover. It was a good outing that will give him personal momentum into the Test season.

4 Brodie Retallick (Chiefs): The veteran just loves to get stuck in and do the hard yards which is exactly what he did again for the Chiefs. With ball in hand he made 11 carries and decent metres with each one of them, but on defence, he was a different beast. The All Black made 15 tackles and a whopping four turnovers in a crucial effort in the heart of the Chiefs’ pack. Big, big performance from the superstar.

3 Nepo Laulala (Blues): A key part of the foundation for his side to work with, particularly in the set-piece. He was rewarded with a try as well in a performance which was lovely to see for the All Black who looks to be finding some good form.

2 Codie Taylor (Crusaders): Just another brace of tries for the experienced campaigner who will always pop up whenever his side needs it. Aside from that, he was neat in defence and made no errors in the line-out as his side powered into the last four. Chiefs battering ram Samisoni Taukei’aho was brilliant again this week.

1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Blues): Crusaders youngster Tamaiti Williams had a great outing but the powerful Aucklander edged him through a strong scrummaging and defensive effort that included 10 tackles. The prop was also good in the carry and much like his front-row partner, Laulala, provided the platform for his side to work with.

READ MORE: Blues relishing underdog tag against Crusaders in replay of last year’s final