2023 Crusaders vs Brumbies Rugby

Super Rugby Pacific Round 5: Are The Chiefs The Title Favorites?

Super Rugby Pacific Round 5: Are The Chiefs The Title Favorites?

Is it time to say that the Crusaders’ long run atop Super Rugby Pacific is in serious jeopardy? Are the Chiefs title favorites?

Mar 23, 2023 by Briar Napier
Super Rugby Pacific Round 5: Are The Chiefs The Title Favorites?

Is it time to say that the Crusaders’ long run atop Super Rugby Pacific is in serious jeopardy?

Fans of the four-time defending champions, especially after a win in Round 4, probably think otherwise. But with 4-0 starts by a pair of teams (and neither of them being the Crusaders), they also might be getting their biggest challenge for the crown since their dynasty started.

The conclusion of Round 5 will mark the end of the first third of the 2023 Super Rugby season – meaning there’s plenty of table shifting and critical fixtures left to go, but it also will provide a barometer of where the teams stand and whether or not each squad can live up to their expectations.

It’s not quite time to put up or shut up – except if individual players are fighting for their places on their national teams for the Rugby World Cup later this year – but every win or loss, even at such an early stage of the season, remains critical.

Here’s a look at the Super Rugby Pacific matches to watch for in Round 5 of the 2023 season, with many fixtures this year being streamed live on FloRugby.

NOTE: All kickoff times are listed in Eastern Time and are subject to change.

Crusaders Vs. Brumbies

Have the Crusaders finally gotten past their rough patch? 

Last week’s result may have indicated that the juggernauts of Super Rugby over the past several seasons finally have turned a corner and marked themselves down as more contender than pretender. 

At an uncharacteristic 1-2 after three rounds, the four-time defending league champions got a much-needed statement win in Round 4, defeating the Blues in a rematch of last year’s playoff final, 34-28.

Winger Leicester Fainga’anuku – one of the main men in the Crusaders’ title charge a season ago – crossed over for three tries, as the Christchurch-based club bounced back in a big way from a shock loss to the Fijian Drua in the prior round. 

Keeping the momentum going is the next challenge for coach Scott Robertson and his men, and the quality of the opponent for Round 5 doesn’t dip. 

The Brumbies, who were Australia’s top team in 2022, haven’t missed a beat to start the 2023 campaign. They’re one of the two unbeaten clubs through the first four weeks of the season and put up a round-high in points last week, crushing winless Moana Pasifika 62-36 in an entertaining fixture that had 14 tries in all. 

Coach Dan McKellar’s group will make its first trip of the season to New Zealand this weekend and hop into one of the country’s toughest rugby venues right away – Orangetheory Stadium – but the shakiness of the Crusaders start to the year makes it far from an absolute conclusion that the New Zealanders are going to have the upper hand. 

Between electric wingers Fainga’anuku and Brumbies veteran Andy Muirhead (both with four tries this season), expect a mad dash to the finish in the competition’s Round 5 opener. 

New South Wales Waratahs Vs. Chiefs, Friday at 4:35 a.m.

If you’re going to stop the Chiefs, who are running laps around the rest of Super Rugby on a league-high 19 points and a massive plus-84 point differential through just four games, you’re probably going to need to stop Shaun Stevenson. 

No one has proved capable of shutting down the 26-year-old Maori All Black yet, and until that happens, it’s difficult to see anyone getting a win over the Chiefs at the moment. 

The winger and Auckland native picked up a pair of tries in his team’s cozy 44-25 win over the Melbourne Rebels this past matchweek in Hamilton, improving his try total to seven on the season – three ahead of the next-closest players on the competition’s list of individual try leaders.

Super Rugby’s top club in both tries scored and fewest tries allowed, the Chiefs haven’t won a match by fewer than 19 points, hold a season-opening victory over the Crusaders and have been downright destructive in the early-season title fight, looking in prime position to be competing for the side’s first Super Rugby title in a decade. 

The perfect start can extend to 5-0 against the Waratahs, and the Chiefs likely will be well-favored to do so, even while on the road in Sydney. 

But it’s important to note that New South Wales does have the ability to stick around and make things difficult for its opponents, even while holding a 1-3 record. 

Just ask the Brumbies, who needed a massive 16-point performance from No. 9 Ryan Lonergan (most of which came in the first half) to help them get past the Tahs by six points in Round 1, for instance, who had some issues being productive on the new Allianz Stadium pitch. 

A victory over the side that appears to be the emerging title favorite would send that same crowd into hysterics.

Blues Vs. Western Force

Sure, the Blues probably would’ve preferred to beat the Crusaders last weekend, but if your only two defeats on the season have come by single digits to the league’s undisputed most powerful club since at least 2017 and to one of the year’s two unbeaten teams (Brumbies in Round 2), you’re probably doing pretty well for yourself. 

However, with a showdown with the Chiefs looming in Round 6, the Blues need to focus on the game ahead against the Force and fine-tune any lingering mistakes in time for the matchup against Super Rugby’s top team. 

Mark Telea and Caleb Clarke (three tries each) remain one of the top attacking duos in the league, and both scored tries – along with reliable difference-makers Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Stephen Perofeta – in the Blues’ loss to the Crusaders. 

That amount of firepower could spell doom for the Force in Round 5, who allow the most points (159) of any team currently placed among the eight postseason qualifying places in the Super Rugby table. 

Still, the Force are in the top 8 at the moment for a reason, with first-year coach Simon Cron giving the team a boost on the touchline and helping lead it to victories over the Melbourne Rebels and Moana Pasifika. 

The 43-35 loss to the Highlanders last weekend, however, was a bit of a setback.

The injury-stricken Highlanders, who after three matches were anchored to the bottom of the Super Rugby table following losses to the Blues, Crusaders and Chiefs, scored 21 unanswered on that suspect Force defense in the second half to will it to a first win of the year and drop the Aussies to 2-2 when an over-.500 record after four rounds was in sight. 

The Blues very well could exploit those same open gaps and run away with a win in Round 5, unless they’re getting too far ahead of themselves and allow the Force to keep things interesting at Eden Park.