Super Rugby Pacific’s Round 6 opens with a highly anticipated Friday night clash between Moana Pasifika and the Highlanders in their inaugural meeting at Mt Smart stadium this Friday 31st March.
Returning home after going down to a firing Hurricanes outfit, Moana Pasifika are seeking to secure their first win for 2023 on home soil.
The team from the South are also looking to turn their season around after starting their Super Rugby Pacific campaign with an 0 for 3 streak. Now with two wins in a row, which includes a strong 57-point performance against the Fijian Drua, the Highlanders are hoping to build upon their momentum against a hungry Moana side.
Moana Pasifika this week has acknowledged that in an elite competition like this, they can ill-afford to dwell on their recent loses. With a 6 day turn around, the vibe around the camp is one that continues to stay in high spirits despite the vigorous travel, match up schedule and on-field results. The second-year team has shown that they can compete against the best, and an 80-minute performance this Friday might just be all they need to finally put the pieces together this season.
Head Coach Aaron Mauger looks to make both tactical and forced changes to his side who are continuing to face multiple injuries to key players.
Ezekiel Lindenmuth will look to bolster the Moana Pasifika set piece as he returns to the starting XV where he’ll join the accurate Samiuela Moli and Suetena Asomua in the front row. Loose Forward utility Michael Curry returns from his neck injury to form the locking duo alongside Samuel Slade and complete the tight five.
A positive takeaway from Moana Pasifika’s three-week Australian tour was the emergence of star 23-year-old Miracle Faiilagi, who returns to the starting six jersey following an impressive collection of games this season. Joining him on the openside in the loose forward trio will be another former Samoa 7s star Alamanda Motuga, and rounding out the back of the scrum is ‘Ikale Tahi’s Solomone Funaki. Continuing to lead by example, Funaki sits among the most efficient tacklers in Super Rugby Pacific and will also be leading the team out onto Mt Smart Friday night.
Ruled out with a neck injury, Christian Lealiifano makes way for first five Lincoln McClutchie to make his second start of the season and will form a Hawkes Bay 9 & 10 combination with halfback Ereatara Enari.
Moana Pasifika will also welcome back two stalwarts of their backline in the form of star winger Timoci Tavatavanawai and Inside-Centre Danny Toala. Tavatavanawai who currently sits third in the entire Super Rugby Pacific competition in defenders beaten, and Toala, whose kicking game and versatility has been the key to unlocking Moana’s attacking fire, will offer much leadership and go-forward with the absence of Lealiifano.
The new arrivals on the bench are headlined by Joe ‘Apikotoa, the St Pat’s Silverstream product that’ll be looking to make an impact as he returns to the side for his 2023 debut. Jonah Mau’u, who impressed early on in his debut for Moana Pasifika against the Fijian Drua this year, also gets another opportunity from the hardwood.
The round 6 opener is just the second meeting between the two teams, the first being a 37-17 Highlanders win at Forsyth Bar. At this home match, Moana Pasifika looks to celebrate women in rugby and women who support players in rugby.
Moana Pasifika v Highlanders
Friday 31st March, kick off 7:05pm NZT
Mt Smart Stadium
Unavailable due to injury: Sekope Kepu (achilles), Jack Lam (ankle), Penitoa Finau (foot), Christian Lealiifano (neck), Alex McRobbie (shoulder), Lotu Inisi (knee laceration), Jonathan Taumateine (hamstring), Anzelo Tuitavuki (concussion)See all news