Super Rugby Pacifica is an All Black Trial

The present Super series is not a commercial model and it won’t last.  However it is functional as a series of “trial” matches for RWC23 for the All Blacks, Wallabies and to a degree Fiji and Samoa. It has been interesting to study each weekend.  I’m drawing a comparison between the 6 Nations and Super Rugby Pacifica. The 6 Nations is more seriously adjudicated, physical and intense – typical of Test matches in the Northern Hemisphere. Down under we have a faster, more skilful and dynamic brand of rugby. The winner of RWC France will need both.

This Super series provides Ian Foster and his coaches the ideal opportunity to see the relevant strengths (physical and mental) of the players they will need to groom into a team to be competitive at RWC France. This is certainly the first step in a vitally important  process. The second is to adequately fill the areas which have been found wanting during our recent northern tour.  I have mentioned in a previous blog these areas are the midfield backs and loose forward combinations. The third step will be to allow these combinations time to develop instinctive rhythm by playing the same mix game after game. The trials will be over shortly and the time will have come for the AB coaching group to coach and grow their combinations into a highly tuned team.  I have no doubt this team can and should win the RWC. If we continue to experiment, rotate players and select poorly we will sadly fall short. The old saying “a good team will invariably beat a team of good players” comes to mind.

I am an advocate of selecting specialists; the matching of players’ attributes with their core roles is a prerequisite, and should be done before identifying player combinations.

It is exciting and very encouraging to see the growth of a number of players; some of whom are playing in different positions. Alex Nankivill has played provincial rugby since 2015 and Super Rugby since 2017 but hasn’t been able to secure a consistent starting position. I’m sure after the weekends match for the Chiefs he will play with even more confidence and put himself into contention at either 12 or 13 for the AB’s. Tupo Vaa’i, a short All Black lock is making a success of the blindside flanker role and will get better as he spends more time focused on the abrasive and impact requirements. Jordie Barrett now owns the 15 jersey and it’s his to lose. Ardie’s ability at 7 and 8 suggests that the other No 8 will be either Gus Sowakula or Hoskin Sotutu. Josh Lord is growing with experience and he has the genuine height to compete with the big teams in world rugby.

As a rugby purist I am loving the intrigue of Super Rugby Pacifica, it sorts out the men from the boys on the field and exposes the merits of each coaching combination off the field. It doesn’t identify Test players against aspirants and this will need to be the role of the All Black Coaches. They will have 18 matches to hone a World Cup winning team from a stable squad.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – MARCH 19: Alex Nankivell of the Chiefs scores a try during the round five Super Rugby Pacific match between the Moana Pasifika and the Chiefs at Mt Smart Stadium on March 19, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)