No one is safe in Super Rugby Pacific.
The race for the top eight and a shot at postseason glory has had some wrenches thrown into it recently, and if past events this season are any indication, there’s plenty more twists and turns in it to come. Meanwhile, at the top of the standings, a new adversary has arisen to threaten the dominant team of the year thus far — and they’re coming for trophies.
Points get even more important as the season’s clock ticks down while dreams, jobs and laurels are on the line with playoff pushes and title-deciders. The team that rises above as the weeks fly by will likely be a unit to be reckoned with.
Here are the storylines headed into Round 9 of the Super Rugby Pacific season and a look ahead to the matches being streamed on FloRugby this matchweek.
Blues Make Statement In Shutout Win
If there were any doubts about the Blues being worthy challengers at the top of the Super Rugby Pacific standings entering Round 8, those concerns were likely shattered after a dominant win over Chiefs this past weekend.
But not only were the Blues victorious, they also did it in style, pulling off a rare shutout as All Black star Beauden Barrett raced toward two tries in a 25-0 win over the Hamilton side. Undoubtedly the hottest club in Super Rugby Pacific at the moment, coach Leon MacDonald’s team hasn’t lost since a narrow one-point defeat to Hurricanes in Round 2. The club is on a six-game winning run, including a season-double over Chiefs after Blues emerged ahead with a 24-22 win in their first meeting March 4.
Blues will get a top-half test against Crusaders in an opportunity to tie — or even overtake — Brumbies at the top of the Super Rugby table (Brumbies have a game in-hand and are off in Round 9) and truly make their name known for the home stretch of the competition.
Brumbies Handle Fijian Drua, Stay On Top Of Table
Speaking of Brumbies, the Canberra-based unit rebounded well from a first loss of the season to the Queensland Reds in Round 7, breezing past Fijian Drua 33-12 in their second meeting against one of the two Super Rugby debutants this year.
It wasn’t quite as dominant as the 42-3 dismantling over the Fijians back on Feb. 25, but another two tries from Brumbies wing Tom Wright — the competition’s leader with seven this season to his name — led the charge over the weekend as Brumbies marked prop James Slipper’s 150th Super Rugby appearance in style. Brumbies get a chance to rest this week, but right on their tails include the aforementioned Blues, plus the Crusaders and Reds, that could pass coach Dan McKellar’s team in as little as one matchweek.
2022 Moana Pasifika vs Chiefs
Nine years after 2004 — a hallowed year for Brumbies supporters, the last time the club won the Super Rugby title — the team made the 2013 Grand Final but lost a thriller to the Chiefs. And nine years after that dark day in Hamilton, the Brumbies control their destiny to make it to the promised land again.
Moana Pasifika Has Double Duty This Week
Moana Pasifika is finally getting around to playing some consistent rugby after COVID-19 issues, both within and outside their squad, derailed some games and left them tied for a league-low six matches played (with Hurricanes). Those matches would have to be made up sometime, and for the Super Rugby rookies full of players representing the Pacific island nations, they’ll have to push through two games in one round this matchweek.
The first is a makeup clash against Hurricanes on Tuesday, but the showdown with the Chiefs on Friday is particularly interesting for several reasons. Chiefs (placed sixth at the moment) have lost two of the past three and need a positive result versus Pasifika in order to avoid slipping further down the pecking order and into danger of dropping below the top eight.
2022 Moana Pasifika vs Hurricanes
For Moana Pasifika, it may be officially bottom right now after handing the Highlanders a 37-17 win in Round 8 (the Dunedin club’s first of a miserable season), but its players have finally been able to train and play with each other on a consistent basis in what’s been a rocky and tumultuous country Super Rugby season. One calling card for the Chiefs, though, is that they dominated the first meeting over Moana Pasifika 59-12 in Round 5, meaning that Moana has an uphill battle to make headway both against the Chiefs — and the rest of the competition.
Reds Look To Keep Pace Against Upstart Rebels
Queensland Reds need full points this week. After having Round 8 off following a stunning 21-7 win over the Brumbies, the squad needs to come out strong against a Melbourne Rebels team that the Reds should be highly-favored against.
But Rebels, after starting their season a woeful 0-5, have stormed back recently to win their past two games against Fijian Drua in Round 6 and Western Force in Round 8.
2022 Queensland Reds vs Melbourne Rebels
Reds do have the best defensive record (108 points allowed) in the competition, though, and did hold Rebels to a measly five points in their meeting in Round 1. But can Rebels use their newfound confidence to pull off a massive upset, or will Reds keep rolling as they look to continue to put pressure on the leaders from their fourth-place position?
Can Highlanders Maintain Spark Against Hurricanes
It’s been a pretty dreadful year for the Highlanders, but they at least finally got over the hump of getting their first win of the Super Rugby Pacific season with a controlled victory over Moana Pacific in Round 8.
A Super Rugby Trans-Tasman finalist from last season, the Highlanders have many mountains to climb in order to get back to that point again, but the team isn’t as far away from the playoff positions as you’d maybe think. Sitting in 10th at eight points, a win over the current 11 points of eighth-placed Hurricanes (along with a Melbourne Rebels loss) would leapfrog the Dunedin club back into playoff positions in what would be a huge movement considering Highlanders were rock-bottom of the Super Rugby table for several weeks.
2022 Hurricanes vs Highlanders
Hurricanes have only played six matches this season due to COVID-related interruptions, however, but still have lost their past three games as coach Jason Holland is looking to sort out the team’s issues and keep hold of a pivotal postseason spot. Getting back into winning ways over a squad with their own issues, in the Highlanders, could help restore some morale into the dressing room, but the opposite could make for a dreadful error as the weeks keep ticking down in the Super Rugby season.
Super Rugby Pacific Schedule: Round 8
NOTE: All match start times are listed in Eastern Time and are subject to change.
TUESDAY, APRIL 12
Hurricanes vs. Moana Pacific, 3:05 am
FRIDAY, APRIL 15
Crusaders vs. Blues, 3:05 am
Melbourne Rebels vs. Queensland Reds, 5:45 am
SATURDAY, APRIL 16
Chiefs vs. Moana Pacific, 12:35 am
Highlanders vs. Hurricanes, 3:05 am
Western Force vs. New South Wales Waratahs, 5:45 am