With the competition still months away, Sunday’s draw announcement gives Super Rugby fans plenty of time to plan their schedule and highlight each team’s key games.
The 2023 edition of Super Rugby Pacific favors family time slots with almost a quarter of matches in broad daylight as they return to the scheduled format which will see Australian and New Zealand teams face off in the first round.
On top of that, the easing of restrictions surrounding COVID will allow Fijian Drua to play their home games in Fiji while Moana Pasifika will play their first match in Suva in the eighth round.
With that in mind, here are 10 of the key clashes that will shape Super Rugby Pacific
Round 1: NSW Waratahs v ACT Brumbies
The opener for the Australian sides is a blockbuster with old rivals NSW Waratahs and ACT Brumbies set to set the tempo for an exciting season.
It will mark a homecoming for the Waratahs, ending their nomadic journey through Greater Sydney as the new Allianz Stadium becomes their home.
Darren Coleman turned Leichhardt into a stronghold last year and they need solid results early on to build on last year’s breakout season and ensure fans continue to buy into the rebuild.
Meanwhile, the Brumbies are starting life under new manager Stephen Larkham, returning wiser for his team at Irish giants Munster.
As for the Australian teams, the ACT squad are the ‘hunt’ after their semi-final appearance and will need their Wallaby foam core to lift themselves as they enter life without Tom Banks, Folau Fainga ‘a, Irae Simone and Scott Sio.
Round 1: Western Force v Melbourne Rebels
The Force and the Rebels add another chapter to their growing rivalry as they head to Perth.
Whether it’s fair or not, the history of both teams will always be interconnected, with this game always providing some great games, highlighted by the Rebels’ one-point win at HBF Park in April.
The departure of influential Rebel Michael Wells to the Force adds another element, the bond with new manager Simon Cron, matched only by the trip of Cron’s predecessor, Tim Sampson, to the Victoria-based club. .
The Rebels will be eager to build momentum ahead of the Super Round, which is once again to be held in Melbourne, and return to its original location in the second round.
Round Three: Blues vs. Hurricanes
Leon McDonald and the Blues beat 11 of 12 teams in 2022. The team they didn’t beat? Hurricanes.
Both teams delivered one of the games of the season as a late try from Ardie Savea delivered a remarkable 33-32 comeback win at Dunedin.
It kicked off the Blues’ club-record 15-game winning streak, but there will still be plenty of players to suffer the tough defeat, conceding three tries in ten minutes.
Plus, any match between the Barrett brothers is guaranteed to deliver fireworks.
Round Four: Blues vs. Crusaders
The Grand Finals Rematch: Doesn’t get any bigger.
The two teams have established themselves as the premier teams in the competition in 2022, dominating their rivals.
While the Blues were minor Premiers, the Crusaders showed why they are one of the most successful clubs in World Rugby to win the inaugural title.
Pablo Matera’s departure leaves a big hole in the back row for the champions, but Cullen Grace’s emergence as a superstar will be fascinating to watch.
Round Five: Moana Pasifika vs. Hurricanes
The Hurricanes will forever go down in history as the first team to lose to the expansion club, bent on revenge.
Danny Toala became an instant cult hero for Moana Pasifika with his overtime try in that 24-19 win, sending the Mt Smart faithful into a frenzy.
Their final round victory over the Brumbies provided a key impetus for this season, requiring big name players to be signed if they are to compete for a place in the final.
Meanwhile, the presence of Brett Cameron provides crucial experience for a young playing squad for the Hurricanes.
Round Seven: Reds vs Brumbies
It’s a rivalry that’s been supercharged over the past five years, with a return to Suncorp only adding to the action.
The two sides will face off twice, first at the GIO Stadium in the third round, in a bid to cement their claim as Australia’s first team.
The Reds’ late-season fade put pressure on the squad and Brad Thorn, losing Lukhan Salakaia-Loto and Hamish Stewart.
Meanwhile, the Brumbies will be out for revenge after their 21-7 defeat in April, site of the Reds’ famous Super Rugby AU victory in 2021.
Eighth round: Moana Pasifika against the Reds
Round eight is historic for Moana, who is about to play his Samoa debut as they take on the Reds in Apia.
If the scenes resemble anything from the Drua’s return to Fiji, expect a carnival atmosphere as crowds cheer on their team for their first home game outside of New Zealand.
The Reds know what to expect, having played the region’s first Super Rugby game against the Blues in 2017.
Hunter Paisami and Jordan Petaia are among several players of Samoan descent in the Reds squad, looking to spoil the party.
Round 12: Brumbies vs. Highlanders
As the road to the final begins, this game looms as a key game for both sides to claim their final claims.
The Brumbies used this year’s Super Round clash to announce themselves to the rest of the competition with a 28-17 win before backing it up with victories over the Hurricanes and Chiefs.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders struggled towards the end of the season after defeats to the Waratahs and Rebels, limping to the final in eighth position.
With games against the Reds and Blues rounding out the year, this could become a must win for Clarke Dermody’s side.
Round 14: Fijian Drua vs. Moana Pasifika
The two expansion teams will face off in Fiji for the first time in Round 14.
The Drua came away with the win in their inaugural encounter at CommBank Stadium, securing a 34-19 win.
The return to Fiji highlights six home games for the Drua after COVID limited them to just two, still out for their first win after narrow defeats to Highlanders and Chiefs.
Expect a monster crowd for this match between the rival teams.
Round 15: Force vs. Chiefs
Although there is no natural rivalry between these two teams, this game could be crucial for the composition of the final as the last game of the regular season.
The Force narrowly missed after a season-ending charge, beating Moana Pasifika and Hurricanes in less than a week.
This will be the first time excitement machine Chase Tiatia has played his old side, looking to develop a lethal combination with Manasa Mataele.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs will suffer after their quarter-final loss to the Brumbies at home, eager to end their season on a high.