2023 Blues vs NSW Waratahs - Quarterfinal

Super Rugby Pacific Quarterfinal Preview: Eight Teams Remain In Contention

Super Rugby Pacific Quarterfinal Preview: Eight Teams Remain In Contention

After 15 grueling weeks of rugby in arguably the best club competition in the world, only eight worthy clubs are left standing in Super Rugby Pacific.

Jun 9, 2023 by Briar Napier
Super Rugby Pacific Quarterfinal Preview: Eight Teams Remain In Contention

Eight teams. Three rounds. One goal.

After 15 grueling weeks of rugby in arguably the best club competition in the world, only eight worthy clubs are left standing in Super Rugby Pacific out of the 12 teams that duked it out for months across Oceania.

Electric sides from Australia, New Zealand and – for the first time – Fiji have three wins left in front of them to see themselves crowned as champions for 2023. 

Teams are tired, injured and broken down in every which way, but for the ones who get through the hurt and persevere, the spoils are worth every strain.

But this is a league where legends of the game have applied their trade, and many of the stars in the soon-to-be-played Rugby World Cup are sharpening their skills before suiting up for their countries.

The point is that whichever team is left standing in a few weeks, it undoubtedly earned the right to be on that perch.

The grind to get there, meanwhile, continues now.

Here’s a look at the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinals, which get underway this weekend.

The postseason matches, until a champion is crowned later this month, are being streamed live in the United States on FloRugby.

Blues Vs. New South Wales Waratahs

From being in the final a year ago, to needing to win four of their final five matches in the 2023 regular season to clinch a home playoff fixture, the Blues will host a sputtering Tahs team at Eden Park, hoping to finally complete the mission started with last year’s postseason run. 

The Aucklanders have won eight straight against their quarterfinal opponents overall, while the Tahs have lost all seven times in their history they’ve been the away side in a playoff match, and their most recent result in their regular-season finale – a 33-24 loss to Moana Pasifika, the last-place club’s only win of the entire 2023 Super Rugby campaign – wasn’t one that exactly inspires confidence in picking them to advance in the first round of the elimination games. 

The two teams met in Round 9, with the Blues cleaning house in a 55-21 rout in Auckland behind braces from Ricky Riccitelli and Zarn Sullivan as part of the hosts seven tries overall.

The rematch will see the Blues favored once again, though if there’s any advantage at all the Waratahs can cling to, it probably has to do with the fact that they’ve been in this spot many more times as of late than the Blues. 

Until 2022, coach Leon MacDonald’s club hadn’t qualified for the playoffs in a non-regionalized form of the competition since 2011, whereas New South Wales in that same span won a league title (2014) and made it to the semifinal on two other occasions. 

Long-serving players such as lock Jed Holloway (who leads Super Rugby in lineout wins) and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper (who will be the Tahs’ fourth most-capped player all-time with 141, if he plays) could give the visitors a veteran’s edge, but the Blues and lethal winger Mark Telea (joint league-high 11 tries) will counter with plenty of explosive lethality in response.

Chiefs Vs. Queensland Reds

The real journey to end a decade of heartache – following back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, their last pieces of Super Rugby hardware – begins now for the Chiefs. 

The unquestioned best side in the competition this season as both the highest scorers (487 points) and possessors of the stingiest defense (261 points allowed), the Hamiltonians topped the table by 11 points and only lost once across 14 games. 

That one slip-up? It came to none other than their quarterfinals opponents. 

In a result that ended up critical to its postseason qualification, the Reds toppled the Chiefs in an upset 25-22 victory in Round 12, denying the top seeds a perfect regular season and giving them a rare blemish in an otherwise outstanding season. 

Queensland needed those points to avoid seeing its season end last weekend.

After three consecutive losses to close the regular season, only scoring differential separated the Reds and the ninth-place Highlanders with the teams even on 24 points after Round 15. 

So, if the Reds beat the Chiefs once already this year, is there a chance for the visitors to do it a second time in an elimination match? The odds aren’t in their favor. 

Top seeds rarely lose their first playoff matches in Super Rugby, and Queensland’s triumph over the Chiefs last month was its first win on New Zealand soil in 10 years. 

But the fact that the Reds are the only team in the competition that can claim a victory over the Chiefs this year makes the fixture all the more intriguing, particularly considering that Reds flanker Fraser McReight – one of the standout players of the side this season – may be playing for a World Cup slot with the Australian national team, if he puts up a strong performance on one of the most established names of the game in Sam Cane, the New Zealand captain.

Crusaders Vs. Fijian Drua

What a way to qualify for the playoffs for the first time, no? 

The Fijian Drua, who will be making their debut quarterfinals appearance this weekend in their second season of Super Rugby, needed a lot of things to go right for them to still be playing, as they were outside the top 8 in the standings entering the final round of the regular season. 

But, following a convincing 41-17 win over the Queensland Reds in Round 15 (and miscues from rivals in the table earlier in the round), Fiji’s Super Rugby club clinched a berth in the postseason in an epic moment for the sport in the south Pacific Islands, showing that a club that calls the region home can compete with their much bigger, more established foes in Australia and New Zealand. 

What’s more is that the Drua have beaten their quarterfinal opponent once already, too – they stunned the Crusaders 25-24 in Round 3 in front of an electric Lautoka crowd as part as arguably the biggest shock result of the season against the four-time defending Super Rugby champions.

The difference, though, is that the score above came in March, when the Crusaders looked miserable after a 1-2 start. It’s now June, and if any club in the competition knows how to win at this late stage, it’s the Crusaders. 

Amid probably the greatest dynasty ever seen in Super Rugby, coach Scott Robertson (who is leaving to take the head job with the New Zealand national team after the upcoming Rugby World Cup) is looking to end his decorated tenure with the club with a bang. His side has only lost two matches since that defeat in Fiji, against the league-leading Chiefs and against the Hurricanes last weekend in a match that had no significance for playoff standing. 

So, if the Drua are hoping for lightning to strike twice, good luck. The Crusaders have won 77% of their postseason matches all-time, the best rate of any Super Rugby club, and the Drua will be arriving at the Orangetheory Stadium with a seven-game losing streak in fixtures outside of Fiji.

Brumbies Vs. Hurricanes

Brumbies-Hurricanes, who have met four times in the playoffs and have split the results, nearly always delivers as a top-level fixture. 

With seasons on the line this weekend, it’s sure to be no different. 

A quarterfinal rematch from last year, in which the Aussies held the ‘Canes at bay in a 35-25 victory, their regular-season rematch in Round 10 this season saw the New Zealanders take back the bragging rights with a 32-27 win. 

The Brumbies sealed home playoff rights in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 quarterfinal game after defeating the Melbourne Rebels last weekend (even as the Hurricanes toppled a Crusaders team in the thick of the title picture), so the trek to a third consecutive semifinals appearance now is, crucially, just a single game in front of home support at the GIO Stadium. 

History indicates that that fact is very good news for the Brumbies. 

They’ve won four straight playoff games as the home side, and 10 of 12 overall. As Australia’s top seeded team and only quarterfinal host, they’ll – barring a surprising run from one of the other two clubs still in the fight from the Land Down Under – be the country’s most likely front-runner toward getting it back the Super Rugby championship for the first time since the Tahs in 2014. 

No team crossed over for more tries in the regular season (70) than the Hurricanes, however, and the Brumbies have been known to have a leaky defense at times (52 tries allowed) for a squad that placed in the top 4 of the standings. 

And with a dangerous distributor in halfback/winger Jamie Booth, whose 10 try assists is the most of any player still playing (the Highlanders’ Aaron Smith had the league lead with 13), plus the only pair of teammates to score at least eight tries apiece in Cam Roigard (nine) and Kini Naholo (eight), the Brumbies back line must be ready for a storm surge to arrive on their pitch.