Making its return, we bring you Super charged, in which we preview the main talking points ahead of the next round of Super Rugby Pacific action.
Games to watch
Just one point separates the two sides after near-perfect starts. Last time out, the Chiefs spoiled the Crusaders party with a 24-21 victory in a typically high-paced New Zealand thriller in Christchurch only a fortnight ago.
The teams are littered with All Blacks and it will be a titanic tussle, with the forward battle crucial in laying the foundation for the talented backlines to express themselves. The Chiefs boast a settled second-row pairing with Josh Lord and Brodie Retallick, while the Crusaders captain Scott Barrett holds their tight five together.
Sam Cane’s experience will be advantageous on the side of the scrum for the Chiefs, but Ethan Blackadder’s work rate will undoubtedly be on show.
Bryn Gatland needs to have a massive game at fly-half as he faces Richie Mo’unga, whose Super Rugby exploits need no introduction. The Crusaders pivot is world-class and he will be hoping to pull all the strings in this clash, linking up with the quality players outside of him.
Both sides have had decent starts in Super Rugby Pacific, with only three points separating the Reds from the Waratahs.
Reds prop Taniela Tupou will be a wrecking ball at scrum time yet again, and the Waratahs will need to directly combat him if they are to hold onto this facet of the game.
The Waratahs will have to contend with an in-form loose trio with Harry Wilson and Fraser McReight playing particularly well.
James O’Connor has been in sublime form and looks very settled in the number 10 jersey, creating strong plays in and around him. O’Connor will pose a considerable challenge for Waratahs pivot Tane Edmed as he faces a very experienced campaigner. Edmed will need to be on his game and kick well if the Waratahs are to tame this Reds side.
Welshman Jamie Roberts earns his first start in ‘Tahs colours and will be a crucial ball carrier in the middle of the park, targeting Hamish Stewart’s channel for gain-line success. Steward holds a complete skill-set, which has been key to complementing O’Connor’s role at fly-half.
Jordan Petaia, who just signed a new deal with Rugby Australia and the Reds, will be buoyed by the news and look to impose himself on the game from full-back.
It is all set for a classic Australian derby.
Player to watch – Beauden Barrett (Blues)
All Blacks superstar Beauden Barrett will make his first start of the season after initially being ruled out with concussion sustained against Ireland in November. Barrett then contracted Covid as the virus spread through the Blues squad.
The two-time World Player of the Year is said to be looking sharp in training by coach Leon MacDonald but admits recovering from the virus has taken a long time. However, the playmaker will be raring to go and will hope to put in another top performance that has become standard over his illustrious career.
Barrett has exceptional pace to match his all-around playmaking ability, and he undoubtedly knows his way to the try-line. His return will be met with smiles by the Blues outside backs, who can expect to be brought into the game much more.
With a wealth of experience, Barrett is an asset to any team in the world and he will be looking to remind New Zealand head coach Ian Foster that he is not done at this level. Expect the speedster to have a brilliant game and pick apart the Highlanders defensive line whilst adding a try of his own. MacDonald will be delighted to have his star man back.
One-v-one battle to watch – Quinn Tupaea (Chiefs) v David Havili (Crusaders)
The battle for the All Blacks’ number 12 jersey is largely between these two players who have been in the camp recently.
Tupaea has shown great maturity for a player who is only 22 years old and looks only to be rising in his career, whilst one could argue that Havili’s kicking game is an extra feather in his cap.
Nevertheless, both players are exceptionally talented and they will know that this match-up is a chance to lay their claim for the starting berth come the mid-year Test series against Ireland.
Tupaea is arguably a better runner, but that takes nothing away from Havili’s ability with ball in hand. One advantage the Crusader will have is playing outside Mo’unga, who will certainly get him on the front foot and in the right places.
The Chiefs may provide a better platform for their backs to play, so it will be up to fly-half Gatland to connect the dots, and Tupaea will be essential to aiding that process. He is at a stage in his career where he is constantly looking to impose himself on the game to make a difference.
It is a mouth-watering battle that the All Blacks coaching team will be watching intently.
Subplot to watch – Fijian Drua aim for a double to increase the Rebels’ pain
Fijian Drua claimed their first-ever Super Rugby Pacific win when these two sides last met, with the Drua claiming a narrow 31-26 victory.
The Drua will see this as a golden opportunity to compound the Rebels’ issues and claim a double over their Melbourne-based counterparts. Meanwhile, the Rebels have lost all their games and are desperate to end their misery and right their ship.
The Pacific Islanders have continued to grow in the competition in direct contrast to the Rebels’ fortunes, so it will be a mightily difficult task for the Aussies. Their athleticism and off-loading prowess will be too much for the Rebels, and it could be a difficult day at the office.
Best of the rest
Moana Pasifika vs Hurricanes
The newcomers have – perhaps unsurprisingly – had a tricky start to life in Super Rugby Pacific, initially with postponed games in the opening rounds due to a Covid outbreak and then to find their feet in the competition with a rapidly intensifying schedule.
The Hurricanes have also had Covid disruptions and are two wins from three games, having played some beautiful rugby.
Moana Pasifika held their own for a fair while against the Crusaders and may do so against the Hurricanes. However, it will not be easy for Aaron Mauger’s men as they may not be able to maintain a high intensity throughout. The Hurricanes will see this as a bonus-point opportunity.
Force vs Brumbies
It was an excellent clash last time out between these two when the Brumbies snatched the game 29-23. The Canberra outfit sit on top of the table with a clean record of five successive wins. The team has found a way to close out close matches whilst dominating when the situation allows. They look a fantastic and well-balanced side.
However, Western Force know they came close in Round One to beating this Brumbies side, which will motivate the players. Thus far, the Force have only won two from five but it could have been more. Izack Rodda has been in great form in the second-row and can hopefully get in amongst the Brumbies’ tight five.
Expect another thriller with the Force hungry to knock the Brumbies off their perch at home in Perth.