Drua, Moana, and Rebels highlight why run home will be anything but smooth

featured, Rugby, Rugby Union, Super Rugby

The long-awaited Super Rugby Pacific upsets nearly arrived three times over this weekend just gone, and it’s fair to say plenty of teams scheduled to play the Fijian Drua, Moana Pasifika, and Melbourne Rebels over the last four rounds took a stark reminder that none of them will be pushovers on the run home.

The Drua’s win over the Hurricanes in Suva, their third from four starts on home soil this season, was due reward for persistence, passion, and something we haven’t always been able to say about Fijian rugby: patience.

Moana Pasifika weren’t robbed at Eden Park – the penalty try and both cards on their line were the right decisions – but they did everything they could to create one of the truly great shock results in Super Rugby history. And the weekend wrapped up with the Rebels giving the ACT Brumbies a hell of a scare in Melbourne, in one of those games where the losing team might take more out of the result than the winners.

And all that comes at a really interesting time to pull together the annual ‘Run Home’ column for the 2023 season. Those three results and/performances alone will remain in our collective minds as we start gazing toward what might be possible for teams over the remaining finals – and which teams may and may not finish in the top eight.

For this year’s edition of the Run Home, I’ve tried to employ a bit of logic that can, in turn, be applied equally across the twelve teams: and that is to run the assumption that teams will beat teams currently below them on the table. There are a couple of exceptions to this assumption which I’ll outline shortly, based on where a game is played, but on the whole, it’s a reasonably sound way to project results over the next four weeks.

The big variable when it comes to final points tallies is bonus points. If I could find a way of seeing those in the future, I can think of better uses for this new skill than looking at rugby results! But it’s an interesting exercise to go through each year regardless.

CHIEFS – 45 points: still to play Reds, Hurricanes, Brumbies (away), Force (away). Maximum points available: 65

There are certainly benefits to being unbeaten when it comes to these sorts of exercises, but it’s not too big a stretch to see the Chiefs carrying their form all the way to the finals. And their current form line means you can’t rule out them taking most of the bonus points available; they’ve taken the fifth point in five wins so far.

The Brumbies in Canberra is the potential speedhump, but it won’t stop them finishing on top. Projected finish: 1st

BRUMBIES – 36 pts: Highlanders, Force (a), Chiefs, Rebels. Max points: 56

That game in Canberra quite likely determines whether the Brumbies finish top two or not, however, and there’s no doubt they will be eyeing off four wins with the remaining schedule they have. Three home games and only one game against anyone currently higher than ninth is about as handy a draw as they come.

Bonus points are going to be vital for the Brumbies, Blues and Crusaders from here, though. It’s going to be crucial that when the opportunity presents itself, the Brumbies start putting teams away properly. Projected finish: 2nd-4th

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

BLUES – 34 pts: Crusaders (a), Reds (a), Hurricanes, Highlanders (a). Max points: 54

The Blues have had another very Blues-season, and if anything, seem to have lost a bit of the rigour that pushed their game all the way to last season’s final. But their draw is such that a top-four finish is now theirs to lose.

The Crusaders in Christchurch this week looks a bit much, but they then have the Reds and Highlanders either side of the Hurricanes in Auckland in a game that probably decides whether they finish top four or not. Projected finish: 3rd-4th

CRUSADERS – 33 pts: Blues, Moana Pasifika (a), Waratahs, Hurricanes (a). Max points: 53

The 4th-placed Crusaders beating the 3rd-placed Blues this week is the first exception to the assumption, but given the red-and-black’s record in Christchurch, I can’t see much argument coming my way. And that being the case, the Crusaders look set to emulate the Chiefs and go through the last four games unscathed.

As with the Brumbies and Blues, BPs will decide how high in the top four the Crusaders finish, and they’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the Brumbies-Chiefs game in Round 14. Projected finish: 2nd-4th

HURRICANES – 32 pts: Moana Pasifika, Chiefs (a), Blues (a), Crusaders. Max points: 52

There are kind draws, and there’s what the Hurricanes have coming home, facing all three NZ sides in the current top four, and both the Chiefs and Blues on their home turf.

The ‘Canes should be too good for Moana this weekend – though this week is their one chance to prove the Blues’ performance wasn’t a one-off – but after that, I’m not sure they win another game. And that would consign them to fifth, the reward then being another road trip to play whoever lands in fourth in a knockout game. It’s a rough hand they’re suddenly holding. Projected finish: 5th

(Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

WARATAHS – 21 pts: Rebels, Drua, Crusaders (a), Moana Pasifika. Max points: 41

The Waratahs have a not unreasonable draw over the remaining rounds, even with a trip the Christchurch included.

Three very winnable games should be enough to secure their current sixth spot, though there’s no doubt the Rebels this Saturday night has make-or-break written all over it, as far as finals ambitions go. The best thing I can say about the Tahs is they’re a better team than the first month of the comp, even when they were winning games to start with. Their set piece is performing consistently, and even with Fraser McReight’s heroics in Townsville, they had the Reds covered pretty well at the breakdown, too. Projected finish: 6th

REDS – 19 pts: Chiefs (a), Blues, Highlanders (a), Drua (a). Max points: 39

In news that will align Reds fans with Hurricanes supporters disgruntled just two paragraphs ago, I think Queensland are in massive trouble now and in real danger of missing the finals completely. Three really tough away games and the Blues at home next week means I don’t think they win another game this season.

The Reds also fall to exceptions of the working assumption twice, by virtue of having to play the 10th-placed Highlanders and 8th-placed Drua away from home. They might be capable of pulling an upset in Dunedin, but they’re not doing it in Suva on current form. Projected finish: 9th-10th

DRUA – 17 pts: Force (a), Waratahs (a), Moana Pasifika, Reds. Max points: 37

It was impossible to not get caught up in the colour, passion and noise of the Drua’s incredible win over the Hurricanes on Saturday, but their test remains to convert that kind of performance into wins on the road. That has always been their undoing, and there would be no better time to show it’s no longer a factor.

But with BPs very possible in these away games and two very winnable games at home to finish the rounds, the Drua have a definite chance to play for a new chapter in their already impressive history. Projected finish: 7th-8th

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

REBELS – 15 pts: Waratahs (a), Highlanders (a), Force, Brumbies (a). Max points: 35

The Rebels remain in a tricky spot. The way they’re playing suggests they should be higher on the table, yet their three losing bonus points all came with at least six-point margins, which suggests they’re still not quite close enough to even be considered unlucky in any of them.

And three really tricky away games to finish means we’re facing another year lamenting them not quite being able to take that next step. They’re closer than they’ve ever been to taking that step and still haven’t lifted the lead foot. I can only see one win to come, against the Force in Melbourne, and that’s going to leave them short of the top eight once again. Projected finish: 9th-10th

HIGHLANDERS – 15 pts: Brumbies (a), Rebels, Reds, Blues. Max points: 35

The southerners are tenth currently, but two definitely winnable games against the Rebels and Reds among three home games to come means they should be able to sneak back into playoff contention soon enough.

The Brumbies and Blues on either side of those two games look too big a task at the moment, but BPs in either will be very handy. The Rebels game is probably the clincher – for both sides, for that matter. Similarly crucial to a number of games outlined above, this one probably decides which of the two teams plays finals. Projected finish: 7th-8th

FORCE – 13 pts: Drua, Brumbies, Rebels (a), Chiefs. Max points: 33

The best and worst thing you can say about the Force’s run home is their draw itself. Three games at home after a long season on the road will be welcome, but the current top two and two other teams battling for playoffs mean the Force are in for a tough run.

They’ll be a chance of knocking off the Drua this weekend, with the travel factor being big enough to be another overrule of the working assumption, but I think that might be it for the Western Australians. Projected finish: 11th

MOANA PASIFIKA – 3 pts: Hurricanes (a), Crusaders, Drua (a), Waratahs (a). Max points: 23

They’ll take plenty of confidence out of the near-miss at Eden Park, but it’s only a spoiler role they can play from here. Three away games to come means it’s hard to see Moana breaking their duck in 2023. Projected finish: 12th

It’s going to be a really interesting run home over the remaining four rounds. Whatever your thoughts on the finals format, it does ensure the competition stays live to the very last games of the last round, as it did last year.

The top four looks like it might set itself, but places 5th to 8th look very much in dispute and very much in play for more than four teams.

Now’s the time to strap in and see how it all plays out.

Leave a Reply