With days only until the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific competition commences its second season, the anticipation is building.
Squads have been assembled, with the starting teams named for the opening clash between the Crusaders v Chiefs in Christchurch. Quickly followed by the New South Wales (NSW) Waratahs v ACT Brumbies. A good opening trial for both the 2023 Super Rugby competition and for some new directives being practiced this season.
‘What, new rules?’ – well, no. Rugby’s laws are not changing, there are some innovations that should (hopefully) speed up the game. That is the hope, and it will be the attitude of players, of referee’s behaviours, and most critically of how interested sports fans are. Because it is the general sports fan that is the target for Super Rugby Pacific marketing staff – to draw in new crowds.
There are some changes coming in 2023 to make #SupeRugbyPacific faster than ever before!
— Super Rugby NZ (@SuperRugbyNZ) February 13, 2023
And once the initial round of matches is completed, all franchise teams head to Melbourne for the second-ever ‘Super Round’. That is designed to bring the excitement and carnival atmosphere which is so popular with decision-makers in the modern game. And SANZAAR’s chief executive is confident his administration has the balance right in 2023.
2023 Super Rugby overview: Pacific competition commences second season
For all the good planning and promotion, it comes down to the efforts of players and management. Over 15 rounds, this season hopes to emulate the well-received first season. 12 teams is a perfect balance, as sides play their respective conferences in either country; New Zealand and Australia, before some crossover fixtures give an idea of the impending Rugby Championship scheduled for August.
But before then, all teams will naturally target the defending champion Crusaders, who might find a seventh title to be an extra effort that not all believe will be so sure of. Especially if either the Blues maintain last season’s form, or the ACT Brumbies or Queensland Reds defy the odds. It is not a fixed race, and the playoffs will prove who can perform under pressure.
New innovations should assist in bringing an entertaining product from the start. Referees will enforce 90 seconds time limits on conversions, 60 seconds for penalty kicks, 30 seconds for scrums and lineouts to be set, and 5 seconds for the ball to be used at rucks, while TMOs will only interrupt play for serious, clear and obvious incidents of foul play when the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season kicks off
Meet the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific franchise teams:
The highest-ranked Australian franchise has a number of titles under its belt, so Stephen Larkham must hope his mixed group can build on the legacy. How that translates will be known after the opening rounds, where they play the Waratahs, Blues, and Reds in succession – a huge task. Yet one where the talents of Rob Valentini and Noah Lolesio might thrive.
Squad: Allan Alaalatoa, Fred Kaihea, Sefo Kautai, Tom Ross, James Slipper, Harry Vella, Billy Pollard, Lachlan Lonergan, Connal McInerney, Nick Frost, Tom Hooper, Cadeyrn Neville, Darcy Swain, Jahrome Brown, Charlie Cale, Ed Kennedy, Luke Reimer, Rory Scott, Pete Samu, Rob Valetini, Ryan Lonergan, Klayton Thorn, Nic White, Jack Debreczeni, Noah Lolesio, Nathan Carroll, Hudson Creighton, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Len Ikitau, Ollie Sapsford, Tamati Tua, Declan Meredith, Jesse Mogg, Andy Muirhead, Ben O’Donnell, Corey Toole, Tom Wright.
The Melbourne Rebels under Kevin Foote might still not have the ‘talent’ to genuinely hurt other sides. Not as polished as the likes of the Hurricanes, although expect a few sides to fall to the Victorian group.
Squad: Jaiden Christian, Cabous Eloff, Pone Fa’amausili, Matt Gibbon, Isaac Kailea, Cameron Orr, Sam Talakai, Theo Fourie, Alex Mafi, Anaru Rangi, Jordan Uelese, Josh Canham, Trevor Hosea, Matt Philip, Tuiana Taii Tualima, Richard Hardwick, Zac Hough, Tamati Ioane, Josh Kemeny, Rob Leota, Daniel Maiava, Brad Wilkin, Moses Sorovi, James Tuttle, Ryan Louwrens, Carter Gordon, Mason Gordon, Nick Jooste, David Feliuai, Stacey Ili, Lebron Naea, Ray Nu’u, Lukas Ripley, David Vaihu, Lachlan Anderson, Reece Hodge, Monty Ioane, Andrew Kellaway, Joe Pincus, Glen Vaihu, likena Vudogo.
Caution might follow the NSW Waratahs, which sees Kurtley Beale’s return, matched with the vastly experienced Nemani Nadolo. Some might be weary of the mix of talent and promise, yet the biggest factor could be the wonderous Allianz Stadium that will be the home for Waratahs fans in 2023.
Squad: Angus Bell, Tiaan Taukipulu, Te Tera Faulkner, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Tom Lambert, Archer Holz, David Porecki, Mahe Vailanu, Tolu Latu, Jed Holloway, Hugh Sinclair, Zane Marolt, Taleni Seu, Zac Von Appen, Lachie Swinton, Michael HooperMichael Hooper, Will Harris, Ned Hanigan, Langi Gleeson Charlie Gamble, Jake Gordon, Harrison Goddard, Teddy Wilson, Will Harrison, Tane Edmed, Ben Donaldson, Jack Bowen, Joey Walton, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Mosese Tuipulotu, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Kurtley Beale, Dylan Pietsch, Nemani Nadolo, Harry Wilson, Ben Dowling, Max Jorgensen.
Should any team doubt the Queensland Reds quality, then head coach Brad Thorn will use that motivation for his squad. Including the wise head of Harry Wilson, to the teenage prospect of Tom Lynagh, it will prove an interesting season up in Brisbane. On bone hard grounds mind you, so expect plenty of running to open the Super Rugby season.
Squad: Harry Hoopert, Zane Nonggorr, Taniela Tupou, Dane Zander, Sef Fa’agase, Phransis Sula-Siaosi, Richie Asiata, Josh Nasser, Matt Faessler, George Blake, Angus Blyth, Lopeti Faifua, Ryan Smith, Luke Jones, Wilson Blyth, Connor Vest, Fraser McReight, Seru Uru, Harry Wilson, Liam Wright, Connor Anderson, Keynan Tauakipulu, Spencer Jeans, Tate McDermott, Kalani Thomas, Lawson Creighton, Tom Lynagh, James O’Connor, Josh Flook, Isaac Henry, Hunter Paisami, Jock Campbell, Filipo Daugunu, Mac Grealy, Jordan Petaia, Suliasi Vunivalu, Floyd Aubrey
Simon Cron will want his new signings to return more on their investment, and so will the Western Force backers. Still not seen as frontrunning, it might be through stealth that this year’s squad makes an impact.
Squad: Angus Wagner, Bo Abra, Charlie Hancock, Santiago Medrano, Tom Robertson, Siosifa Amone, Andrew Romano, Feleti Kaitu’u, Folau Fainga’a, Jack Winchester, Ryan McCauley, Izack Rodda, Felix Kalapu, Jeremy Williams, Will Sankey., Jackson Pugh, Kane Koteka, Michael Wells, Ollie Callan, Tim Anstee, Ned Slack-Smith., Ian Prior, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Henry Robertson, Reejan Pasitoa, Hamish Stewart, Bryce Hegarty, Bayley Kuenzle, Grason Makara, George Poolman, Oliver Cummins.
Olympic gold medalist Iosefo Masi makes his return after a stint in the NRL. He is joined by fellow Sevens World Cup winner Elia Canakaivata, making this group unpredictable. Though it is how organized the same players are across 80 minutes, and over 15 rounds, that might be more important than adventurous play [as exciting as it naturally is].
Squad: Mesake Doge, Haereiti Hetet, Jone Koroiduadua, Timoci Sauvoli, Samuela Tawake, Meli Tuni, Emosi Tuqiri, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Mesulame Dolokoto, Tevita Ikanivere, Zuriel Togiatama, Chris Minimbi, Isoa Nasilasila, Ratu Rotuisolia, Sorovakatini Tuifagalele, Elia Canakaivata, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Ratu Meli Derenalagi, Vilive Miramira, Raikabula Momoedonu, Rusiate Nasove, Kitione Salawa, Joseva Tamani, Simione Kuruvoli, Frank Lomani, Peni Matawalu, Caleb Muntz, Teti Tela, Iosefo Masi, Michael Naitokani, Kalione Nasoko, Apisalome Vota, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Selesitino Ravutaumada, Vinaya Habosi, Ilaisa Droasese, Kitione Taliga, Tuidraki Samusamuvodre
Was 2022 a blip in the ever-disappointing Blues history? Some will say ‘Yes’ while the majority will expect plenty from this franchise. Buoyed by the combinations established, the All Blacks-stacked group must look at consistent play primarily, ahead of any flair and flourish. In fact, if Beauden Barrett can ensure his kicking is at the fore, the opposition will need to be better than equal, before the Blues penchant for counter-attack is released.
Squad: Alex Hodgman, James Lay, Ofa Tuungafasi, Marcel Renata, Nepo Laulala, Josh Fusitu’a, Kurt Eklund, Soane Vikena, Ricky Riccitelli, James Tucker, Sam Darry, Patrick Tuipulotu, Cameron Suafoa, Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Anton Segner, Hoskins Sotutu, Adrian Choat, Rob Rush, Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, Taufa Funaki, Beauden Barrett, Harry Plummer, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Tanielu Tele’a, Rieko Ioane, Corey Evans, Bryce Heem, Mark Telea, Caleb Clarke, AJ Lam, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Caleb Tangitau, Stephen Perofeta, Zarn Sullivan.
Much experience has been lost ahead of the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season. The impressive import Pablo Matera and stalwart Bryn Hall have departed, so it will be hoped that the strong displays from Ethan Blackadder and the clever re-signing of Willie Heinz can benefit the multi-time champions. Solid as usual, the backline must bring new systems to baffle any side who has studied their past tactics.
Note: Head coach Scott Robertson needs no distraction to open the season, so if the NZ Rugby judgment of his appeal as All Blacks coach is proved correct, then many hope it does not deter from the ‘Crusade of 2023’.
Squad: Joe Moody, Oli Jager, Fletcher Newell, George Bower, Tamaiti Williams, Finlay Brewis, Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, George Bell, Scott Barrett, Quentin Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Zach Gallagher, Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Sione Havili Talitui, Cullen Grace, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Christian Lio-Willie, Mitch Drummond, Willie Heinz, Noah Hotham, Richie Mo’unga, Fergus Burke, Taha Kemara, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod, Chay Fihaki, Sevu Reece, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Macca Springer, Melani Nanai, Pepesana Patafilo.
Naming Damian McKenzie as their pivot gives many cues on the 2023 Chiefs’ intent. Aiming for the semi-finals at minimum, will the years in Japanese rugby have improved McKenzies base distribution skills? Many in Waikato must plead that it has – to secure good territory and drive the backline. The backrowers will be clambering over each other for match-time, so it might not surprise if Sam Cane does not start every match in this all-important calendar year.
Squad: Aidan Ross, Atunaisa Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Ollie Norris, George Dyer, Jared Proffit, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Bradley Slater, Tyrone Thompson, Tupou Vaa’i, Brodie Retallick, Laghlan McWhannell, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Sam Cane, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Pita Gus Sowakula, Kaylum Boshier, Samipeni Finau, Brad Weber, Xavier Roe, Cortez Ratima, Bryn Gatland, Damian McKenzie, Josh Ioane, Alex Nankivell, Quinn Tupaea, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rameka Poihipi, Gideon Wrampling, Ngatungane Punivai, Emoni Narawa, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Rivez Reihana, Peniasi Malimali
Brett Cameron is brought in to complement the established core of their squad. Jason Holland must gain more rewards from his men, where the loss of Jackson Garden-Bachop means Julian Savea might be required to play well beside Jordie Barrett, if they can release the backline. Yet for all the promise, consistency will be needed [like the Force].
Squad: Tevita Mafileo, Owen Franks, Xavier Numia, Tyrel Lomax, Pasilio Tosi, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Jacob Devery, James Blackwell, Dom Bird, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Justin Sangster, Brayden Iose, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea, Tyler Laubscher, Devan Flanders, Caleb Delany, TK Howden, Peter Lakai, Jamie Booth, TJ Perenara, Cam Roigard, Aidan Morgan, Ruben Love, Brett Cameron, Riley Higgins, Billy Proctor, Peter Umaga-Jensen, Bailyn Sullivan, Julian Savea, Jordie Barrett, Salesi Rayasi, Josh Moorby, Kini Naholo, Daniel Sinkinson
There is a fine balance down in the Mainland, with All Blacks as well as many who are in the view of the Rugby World Cup. How Clark Dermody can rouse his ensemble to utilize fresh talent in Folau Fakatava and Jona Nareki to balance the wisdom of a Marty Banks or Josh Dickson is the key to ‘Landers success in the 2023 Super Rugby competition.
Squad: Ayden Johnstone, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan de Groot, Jermaine Ainsley, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Luca Inch, Rhys Marshall, Andrew Makalio, Leni Apisai, Pari-Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Max Hicks, Will Tucker, Fabian Holland, James Lentjes, Billy Harmon, Hugh Renton, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Sean Withy, Nikora Broughton, Aaron Smith, Folau Fakatava, James Arscott, Marty Banks, Mitchell Hunt, Cameron Millar, Fetuli Paea, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Scott Gregory, Josh Timu, Connor Garden-Bachop, Mosese Dawai, Vilimoni Koroi, Jona Nareki, Jonah Lowe, Sam Gilbert.
Moana Pasifika has kept a settled squad in their quest for their first Super Rugby playoff appearance. Retaining their senior men, in captain Sekope Kepu and Christian Lealfano, benefits the group’s experience, with quality in the likes of Jack Lam and Lolagi Visinia.
Squad: Sekope Kepu (c), Isileli Tuungafasi, Joe Apikatoa, Tau Koloamatangi, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Chris Apoua, Abraham Pole, Ray Niuia, Sam Moli, Luteru Tolai, Mike McKee, Alex McRobbie, Samuel Slade, Jack Lam, Sione Tuipulotu, Solomone Funaki, Penitoa Finau, Lotu Inisi, Sam Slade, Alamanda Motuga, Michael Curry, Ereatara Enari, Jonathan Taumateine, Manu Paea, Christian Lealifano, D’Angelo Leuila, Lincoln McClutchie, William Havili, Levi Aumua, Danny Toala, Henry Taefu, Fine Inisi, Lolagi Visinia, Neria Fomai, Tomasi Alosio, Timoci Tavatavanawai, Tima Fainga’anuku, Anzelo Tuituvuki.
Super Rugby Pacific kicks off Friday, February 24 – see full schedule HERE.
“Main image graphic courtesy of Super Rugby Pacific Facebook site“