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A clean slate, new blood and points to prove: 15 reasons we're stoked Super Rugby is back

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18th February, 2024
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There is a rumbling in the air. The sound of boot studs being tightened, the talk of tactics increasing in volume.

In less than a week, Super Rugby Pacific returns for its third season, and Super Rugby’s 29th season overall in some format.  

Kiwi teams are out to maintain the status quo, the Australian and Pasifika sides looking to disrupt it. Such a dynamic has led to never ending rhetoric around the strength of non-Kiwi teams on internet columns. But this ignores a key point: if this dynamic changes, the competition immediately becomes one of the most compelling and exciting in the world. If there is any year for that to happen, it is 2024. 

Here are 15 reasons why we think Super Rugby Pacific is going to slap this year, in all the right ways:

The Wallabies after their World Cup win over Portugal. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

1. An opportunity to wipe the slate clean for Aussie fans

Let’s address the elephant in the room: 2023 for Australian rugby was a complete and utter shitshow. 

Amassing only six wins against Kiwi sides last year, no Australian side bar the Brumbies managed to consistently threaten for the title. Only three sides making finals further added to criticisms around depth.

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This served as a brutal appetiser for the Wallabies under Eddie Jones. The less said about that, the better.

 

Australian rugby fans desperately need something to reinvigorate their love of the professional game, and what better way than to let the rugby take centre stage in a season that is full of opportunities.

Waratahs coach Rob Penney

Former Waratahs coach Rob Penney is the new man in charge of the Crusaders. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

2. New blood, everywhere

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As is the case with World Cup cycles, 2024 will see a myriad of new coaches and players out to make a name for themselves in Super Rugby Pacific.

Interestingly, in 2024, the vast majority of new blood is on the other side of the Tasman. The Blues, Crusaders, Hurricanes and Moana Pasifika will be welcoming changes in head coach in Vern Cotter, Rob Penney, Clark Laidlaw and Tana Umaga respectively. 

Such opportunities present chances for the next generation to push their case for further honours. However, it means the Kiwi sides are more vulnerable as head coaches establish their styles of play.

This looms as a huge opportunity for the chasing pack to catch up. Bar the appointment of Les Kiss to a strong Reds outfit, Australia’s Super Rugby sides will come into 2024 more settled. Should they hit the ground running, it bodes well for more Aussie sides to go deep into the competition. 

After consecutive semi-finals, Stephen Larkham is aiming to get the Brumbies into the showpiece event. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

3. Coaches with points to prove

Across two seasons of Super Rugby Pacific, Australia has amassed just 14 wins against Kiwi sides, and that winning disparity needs to be addressed if Australia wants to bring back a Super Rugby title. 

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For some coaches, particularly Stephen Larkham at the Brumbies, there is more on the line. Despite the snub of the top job, a big year in Canberra looms following the departure of Laurie Fisher, plus their first season without the man many consider the ‘heart and soul’ of the club, Garry ‘Quinzo’ Quinlivan. 

In Melbourne and Sydney, both Kevin Foote and Darren Coleman enter their fourth and third years at the helm, both coming off disappointing results with talented squads. Lastly in Perth, the Force have had a busy pre-season with strong recruitment and pre-season matches, which looms large for Simon Cron as he chases a maiden finals berth.

Fijian Drua fans celebrate following their win over the Rebels at HFC Bank Stadium on April 1, 2023, in Suva, Fiji. (Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

4. The rise of the Pacific

While there have been many criticisms levelled against Super Rugby, few can deny how fantastic the Pacific inclusions have been. 

The Fijian Drua under Australian coach Mick Byrne advanced leaps and bounds in 2023, earning a maiden finals berth and picking up several big scalps, none bigger than eventual champions the Crusaders. With an incredible fanbase behind them, there is plenty to suggest that the Drua will only continue to grow.

Moana Pasifika, however, has struggled to amass support and have notched up only three wins across two seasons, their only highlight last year crashing Michael Hooper’s farewell party. However, with a new coach and new signings (including The Bus, Julian Savea) there is hope 2024 will see renewed hope. 

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5. Rugby Australia scraps controversial workload management policy 

It’s important to remember that last year, the Brumbies were seriously entertaining a home semi-final. That is, until they were forced to rest many of their best stars under RA’s workload management policy, and were blasted off the pitch by the Western Force. 

Rugby Australia is set to officially scrap the policy in 2024, meaning that Australia’s Super Rugby sides will be able to field their strongest team every week. The move will hopefully open the doors to more game time, and may be a decision that could make the difference come finals. 

6. Themed rounds expand

While Super Round (especially in Melbourne) remains a controversial topic, Super Rugby’s themed rounds enjoyed a lot more success overall in 2023, with Round Ten’s Culture Round, and Round Four’s Kids Round.

These be back in 2024, with Kids Round falling on Round Five and Culture Round falling on Round 12, following a Super Round party in the second week in Melbourne. Round Ten will also see a celebration of ANZAC Day., and with several rival derbies slated for all those rounds, there will be plenty of quality rugby to look forward to!

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7. Schmidt’s conundrum looms ahead of Wales tour

A lot of new names are arriving in Australian rugby at the national level, from the likes of Peter Horne and David Nucifora to the exciting appointment of Jo Yapp as Wallaroos Head Coach. However, after 2023, a lot of eyes will be on Joe Schmidt.

As preparations begin for Wales in July, Schmidt will have this work cut out turning around Australia’s fortunes, not to mention also navigating progression forward in Australia’s centralisation model. The Wallabies are desperate for success, and his preparations will loom over the whole season, as well as the results for each Australian side.  

New Wallabies Head Coach Joe Schmidt has a big job on his hand picking up the pieces from a dreadful 2023. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

8. Moana Pasifika head to Tonga

Speaking of Moana Pasifika’s new coaches and new faces, the side will be hitting the road, playing several home games at various suburban grounds. Among the stops will be North Harbour Stadium in Albany and Okara Park in Whangārei, before they return to Mt. Smart Stadium in the latter half of the season.

However, their tour will see them arrive in Tonga where they will play the Highlanders at Teufaiva Stadium during Round 11. Following the promising results in Samoa last year, a strong attendance in Nukuʻalofa could open the door to the franchise playing more matches between the two island nations. 

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The key for Taniela Tupou succeeding is “happiness”, according to coach Kevin Foote. Photo: Melbourne Rebels

9. Familiar faces in new places

There has been plenty of movement within the Australian Super Rugby sides following the conclusion of the 2023 season.

While the Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies have sured up squads with returning talent from overseas or exciting local prospects, the Force and Rebels have signed several big names. Taniela Tupou and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto will link up in Melbourne alongside Sevens star Darby Lancaster, while Nick White, Ben Donaldson and Will Harris will head across the Nullarbor. 

Coupled with a lot of Australia’s overseas contingent returning home, it adds hope that Australia’s sides will have improved depth in 2024. 

Damian McKenzie is the headline No.10 in New Zealand in 2024. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

10. Crowds and broadcast attendance on the up

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It’s well documented that Australian crowd attendances have been low for the likes of the Rebels, Force and Brumbies. However, last season marked a notable change outside of Australia.

Broadcast viewership and crowd attendance was up in New Zealand, with several matches selling out. Crowd numbers were also strong in the Pacific, and there is promise even in Australia that fans can be drawn back, as evidenced by over 25,000 that showed up in Sydney in round one! 

While the glory days of Super 12 are far away, 2023 suggested Super Rugby Pacific is a product that could draw fans back to professional rugby. 

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport

11. MORE new coaches 

On top of the new coach of the Wallabies, New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga will all have new coaches. While Schmidt and Scott Robertson are the only coaches confirmed, Tonga and Fiji are still to announce a replacement following the departures of Toutai Kefu and Simon Raiwalui, respectively. 

Once they are however, there will be plenty of interest as to who they will select for their respective national sides, adding more spice to the performances of the Drua and Moana. Seilala Mapusua will remain as Samoa’s head coach, and given their promising performances in France, he’ll be hoping to continue that form. 

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Steam rises from a scrum

The Waratahs will take on the Brumbies twice in the opening 10 rounds. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

12. The derbies

It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that the big highlights of the 2023 season were the intensity of the derby matches, from the Brumbies-Waratahs clashes in Australia to the sellout fixtures between the Chiefs and Crusaders.

With many rounds this season focusing on pushing those derbies front and centre, we’ll see the continuation of many great rivalries, both domestically and across the Tasman.

13. Can Australia get more teams into finals?

It’s THE question – can Australia get more sides into finals? The questions asked of Australia’s depth will continue to be asked until they do so, which places even more pressure on the likes of teams like the Rebels and Force.

With the squads shaping up the way they are, there is plenty to suggest this year both sides will be in a much better position to mount a finals challenge. Whether they get there is another question entirely. 

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New Director of High-Performance Peter Horne poses for a photo during a Rugby Australia media opportunity at Rugby HQ on December 22, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

Peter Horne was announced as Rugby Australia’s Director of High-Performance in December. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images for Rugby Australia)

14. Behind-the-scenes action is just as enthralling

Change isn’t just afoot on the pitch. As Peter Horne and David Nucifora begin transforming Australia’s rugby systems, the topic of centralisation is going to continue to expand.

All Australian sides have indicated an interest in alignment of some description, and with the Tahs already signed on there will be plenty of eyes looking at how they perform, and if their model of alignment with RA proves a successful approach to replicate. 

Scott Barrett holds the Super Rugby Pacific trophy as the Crusaders celebrate after winning the Super Rugby Pacific Final match between Chiefs and Crusaders at FMG Stadium Waikato, on June 24, 2023, in Hamilton, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Can anyone stop the Crusaders? (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

15. Can the Crusaders be stopped?

Five Super Rugby titles. Two Super Rugby Aotearoa wins. Few rugby clubs can claim to have dominated a provincial competition to such a degree as the Crusaders have under Scott Robertson’s tenure, with an incredible 83% winning record.  

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That tenure came to a fairytale end in Waikato last year, but it is big boots for Rob Penney to fill. While the new coach struggled at the Waratahs, taking ownership of Canterbury is a different story entirely. 

All teams will be desperate to end the reign of red and black, so it would be fair to say there will be few people under more pressure in 2024 than him!

A note from the Editor

A fresh new rugby season is the perfect time for fresh new voices on Australia’s leading rugby site, The Roar.

Starting this week we will launch a new line up of expert columnists, kicking off with an old favourite Geoff Parkes’ The Wrap on Monday.

On Tuesday we introduce Hamish Bidwell to The Roar stable – he’s someone who you can expect to hop off the fence with a strong view.

On Wednesday, Wallaby tragic Ben Pobjie will entertain and John Ferguson will look at Super Rugby tactics on Thursdays.

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There are also fresh voices for The Roar Rugby Podcast with a view to giving the game Down Under the analysis it deserves. Former Wallaby Matt Toomua will be co-hosting the podcast with rugby editor Christy Doran, plus special guests.

As usual we’ll be bringing all the daily headlines via Rugby News, covering the local game via Nick Wasiliev, publishing special features from Harry Jones and welcoming the best submissions from The Crowd. If you want to get your thoughts across, please contribute.

The Roar has experienced phenomenal growth in the rugby section over the past three years – this one is shaping up even stronger.

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