Fans of rugby are in for a treat this weekend as Super Rugby Pacific begins to give another top-tier domestic competition that is underway. The continued exodus of talent from New Zealand to Japan should make this another interesting season.
Here is a look at some of the games with odds from BetXchange.
Crusaders VS Chiefs – Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
The Crusaders – as always – have named a strong lineup. They open the season with an incredible 13-capped All Blacks in their starting XV, even without veteran lock Sam Whitelock in the side. Whitelock will miss the opening round after picking up a head knock in pre-season against the Hurricanes, but he is expected to be back next week as long as he passes the concussion protocols.
Mitchell Dunshea is replacing Whitelock in the tight five, and he will be looking to impress after he was out for the majority of 2022 with a knee issue. The side will also be without the electric WIll Jordan at fullback – David Havili will fill in – with Jordan still suffering from what has been classed as a migraine-related issue.
The Chiefs welcome back one of their big stars with Damian McKenzie returning from a year spent in Japan. There was some question about where McKenzie would play – it still seems no one knows his best position – but he has been named at fly half for the season opener. That shits Josh Ioane to the bench and keeps Bryn Gatland – a player with plenty of starts last season – out of the 23.
Expect the Chiefs to put up a fight here. They have seven All Blacks in their starting pack, and the shift of Pita Gus Sowakula to the flank is intriguing. Even so, never bet against the Crusaders in Christchurch. They win and cover.
Waratahs VS Brumbies – Allianz Stadium, Sydney
The two best teams in Australia met in Round 1 in what should be a cracking game. Max Jorgensen will be looking to increase his budding reputation on the wing for the home side, with their projected fullback down the line preferred to the legendary Nemani Nadolo out wide.
The Brumbies’ biggest selection choice was at No. 10, and they have gone with Jack Debreczeni in the shirt ahead of an international class player in Noah Lolesio. Expect to see Lolesio come on in the second half, with the Brumbies’ powerful bench also including impact players like Nic White and James Slipper.
I think the Brumbies are the better team, but not by much. Take the home side.
Highlanders VS Blues – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Beauden Barrett has been named the Blues’ starting 10, with Stephen Perofeta chosen to play at fullback in the Blues’ season opener. The Blues look strong to open the year – they should be as beaten finalists last season – and the back three of their scrum in Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali’i, and Hoskins Sotutu is as good as any in the comp.
The Highlanders feel like the odd one out among the New Zealand teams as their lineup lacks star power. That is an even more noticeable issue in Round 1, with scrumhalf Aaron Smith missing the start of the season. It will be up to the electric, but sometimes erratic, Folau Fakatava to control a backline with Mitch Hunt at 10, Thomas Umaga-Jensen at 12, and (almost unbelievably) Freddie Burns coming off of the bench.
I like the Blues to win big here.