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PREVIEW: Super Rugby Pacific heads into quarterfinals

The 2022/23 Super Rugby Pacific campaign reaches its business end this coming weekend with the quarter-finals opening up on Friday.

Steve Haag Sports - John Davidson / www.photosport.nz

Interestingly enough, all the quarter-finals feature teams from opposing nations with the opener seeing the Blues take on the Waratahs in Auckland, while Saturday's first fixture will see the Chiefs lock horns with the Reds in Waikato.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Our final two fixtures of the weekend see Crusaders lock horns with the Fjian Drua in Canterbury and the Brumbies go head-to-head with the Hurricanes in Canberra.

Friday 9 June

Blues | Draw | Waratahs

Betting Odds TBA*

Friday’s opener sees the heavily fancied Blues take on underdogs the Waratahs in the first of the three Aussie versus Kiwi clashes. Both sides were decent enough during the round-robin phase of the competition with the Clues finishing third on the standings with ten wins from 14 outings while the Waratahs finished in sixth spot having won six of their eight games. 

The hosts has a side ladened with All Black talen with Rieko Ioane, Beuaden Barrett, Patrick Tuipolotu and Akira Ioane sure to have a big influence on this fixture. The key man for the Aucklanders, however, may be uncapped winger Mark Telea who has been chewing metres off and bagging tries for fun this term. He is a try off equalling  Doug Howlett’s 12 try season record and you can expect to trouble a Waratahs defence that has been shaky at times this term.  

Like their opponents for Friday, the Waratahs also come packing some heavy hitters with young Wallaby winger Mark Nawaqanitawase one of their most lethal weapons on attack while veteran flanker Michael Hooper will be hoping to extend his swansong in Blue by getting his side to the semi-finals. 

The Blues had by far the better time of it when the two sides met in the round-robin phase with Auckland’s finest running out 55-21 victors at Eden Park.

The ‘Tahs may head into this one well rested having held back a number of players for last weekend’s 24-33 defeat to Moana Pasifika but I don’t think that will count for much against a Blues team who are clearly a cut above the Australian outfit. Money on the hosts clearing the handicap here. 

Blues to clear the handicap.

Saturday 10 June

Chiefs | Draw | Reds

Tournament pacesetters the Waikato Chiefs play hosts to a very lucky Queensland Reds side in Saturday’s first offering.

The hosts have been a class above the rest of the sides this term finishing the regular season 11 points clear of the second place Crusaders and only losing one fixture. There is a glimmer of hope for the Reds, however, as they were the team to beat the Chiefs during the round-robin phase.

While the Chiefs has first spot sewn up before the final set of round-robin fixtures, the Reds were made to sweat on their quarter-final berth up until the last game of the round with their heavy 41-17 defeat to the Drua seeing thm need the Rebels and the Force to lose their games. Their countrymen would go on to lose those fixtures and thus allow the Reds a visit to Waikato.

While both teams are stocked with talent, the Reds international stars have struggled to deliver this term with James O’Connor failing to recapture his form of the previous two seasons while Hunter Paisami has been in and out of the squad with injury. The Chiefs stars, on the other hand, have certainly delivered the goods with Damien McKezine arguably the best performing ten in the competition while Brodie Retallick has been a solid force in the engine room.

Speaking of players and the Reds will be without flanker Liam Wright for this crucial clash as he is out with a dislocated shoulder. To compound matters for the Queenslanders, they will also be without Wright’s promising understudy Connor Vest who also suffered a serious injury in the penultimate round-robin fixture against the Highlanders.

Again, I’m going for the hosts on the minus. Wright was key for the Reds in that shock round-robin win and his absence was evident against the Drua. Money on the Chiefs dominating the breakdown and collision and cantering to a win here.

Chiefs to clear the handicap.

Crusaders | Draw | Drua

The penultimate game of the weekend pits serial Super Rugby winners the Canterbury Crusaders up against the Fijian Drua, who have made great progress this term by qualifying for the knock-out phase of the competition with a seventh-placed regular season finish.

Make no mistake about it, the Crusaders will be out for revenge here. They were the first Kiwi side to taste defeat at the hands of the Drua. And while that defeat ultimately spurred them onto a second place regular season finish – they won
nine out of their remaining 11 fixtures after the loss in Suva – they will still have clear memories of the crowd at Churchill Park celebrating to the fullest at their expense.

As noted earlier, the Drua have made great progress this term and their six wins from 11 games is just reward for their dogged determination and the positive rugby they play. Their quick progress won’t be much of a surpries to those who followed their ascent to the now defunct Australian NRC which they won after only two seasons in the competition.

The Crusaders have been hard hit by injuries with veterans and former All Blacks Ryan Crotty and John Afoa being called into the squad as cover in the centres and front row. While the reigning champions are a bit thin on the ground, I can still see them winning this one against a Drua side that still needs to improve on the road. Personally, I really do hope Ryan Crotty gets a hot out here off the bench just for nostalgia value.

Drua on the plus.

Brumbies | Draw | Hurricanes

We make the trip across the Tasman for the final quarter-final which will see Australia’s great hope, the Brumbies, take on a Hurricanes side that will be on a high having registered a one-point win over the Crusaders this past weekend.

The hosts enjoyed a solid round-robin campaign that saw them register ten wins from their 14 fixtures. They did struggle somewhat against the Kiwi sides, though, going down to the Chiefs, Crusaders, and this weekend’s opponents. What will give Brumbies fans hope, however, is the fact that their side beat the Blues by five points and only went down to the ‘Canes 32-27 away from home.

The visitors for this weekend lost one game more than their opponents during the regular season and this proved costly as they missed out on the last home semi-final berth by five points. They did play some solid rugby this term, however, and are primed for play-offs competition after their narrow one-point win over the Crusaders last weekend.

I honestly don’t see much between the sides and this is making me lean towards the hosts edging it by a very small margin.

Brumbies on the straight W.

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