Moana Pasifika will travel down to Orangetheory Stadium this Easter weekend to take on defending Super Rugby Pacific Champions to open Round Seven of Super Rugby Pacific. Friday’s matchup is just the second time these two teams will face off, where the visitors will be looking to avenge their maiden 33-12 loss to the Crusaders, as well as pick up their first win of the season.
Last week Moana Pasifika did well to limit the Highlanders big ball runners in Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Hugh Renton and late-replacement Mosese Dawai. The improved effort prohibited the Highlanders from gaining long phases of momentum throughout the match and defence of the home team kept the game in close quarters for 60 minutes. Unfortunately, the last 20 minute period lull that has been plaguing the team this season struck again, with the Highlanders putting on four tries in that last quarter. An 80-minute performance has been a goal for the team this season, and they can deliver nothing less this week if they are hoping to upset the Crusaders at home.
With the exception of prop Joe ‘Apikotoa being promoted to the starting side and Isi Tu’ungafasi looking to make his second cap for the year off the bench, Head Coach Aaron Mauger has named an identical squad to his side that faced off against the Highlanders at home last week.
The Moana Pasifika front row consists of Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Samiuela Moli, and Joe ‘Apikotoa who’ll combine with the formidable locking duo of Michael Curry and Samuel Slade to complete the tight five. On the back of competition leader Moli’s 95% line out throw success rate, the Moana Pasifika engine room will be looking to play their part in improving upon their solid 85% lineout win rate. The loose forward trio of Miracle Faiilagi, Alamanda Motuga and captain Solomone Funaki will be looking to emulate their consistently dominant form from last week. Openside Motuga featured with multiple threatening runs in open field, playing homage to his international Rugby Seven’s days for Samoa on the HSBC World Sevens Series Circuit.
Facing off against his former team, halfback Ereatara Enari will be hoping for a statement game this Friday as he links up with a familiar partner in first five Lincoln McClutchie. In addition to fullback William Havili, these three will play a huge role in delivering Moana Pasifika’s territory focussed game plan. The hefty boot of Havili has been a dependable tool for the team this year, both defensively and offensively, so look for these game drivers to control the field possession with a strong kicking game.
Last week’s showing against the Highlanders was a great example of how dangerous the Moana Pasifika backline can be when given space to run free. The devastating combination of Winger Timoci Tavatavanawai and Outside Centre Levi Aumua currently sit first and second respectively in the competition for defenders beaten and will be tested by a defensively sound Crusaders backline as they are once again named in the 13 and 14 jerseys.
Another Centre Wing combination of Hawkes Bay teammates Danny Toala and Neria Foma’i complements the barnstorming running style of their backline counterparts. Foma’i’s match high 13 carries and Toala’s team leading 14 tackles last week offer the Moana Pasifika backline a versatile range of strike weapons all over the park.
The Crusaders this season have been inundated with key injuries to the likes of David Havili, Samuel Whitelock, Ethan Blackadder, and Sevu Reece. But in typical Crusader fashion, the ‘next-man-up’ mentality has allowed for the emergence of newcomers Christian Lio-Willie, Dallas McLeod and Pepesana Patafilo to burst onto the Super Rugby Pacific scene. However most notably, the biggest X Factor for the Crusaders this year has been electrifying winger Leicester Fainga’anuku. Following up from back-to-back Man of the Match performances, the left winger is putting up an undeniable case for the black jersey this World Cup year, and a potential match up with right winger Timoci Tavatavanawai will be one of the greatest head-to-head battles this competition will have the chance to witness.
A Round Seven win couldn’t come at a better time for either team, with Moana Pasifika searching for their first win of the season before their historic inaugural game in Samoa, and the Crusaders looking to celebrate Richie Mo’unga’s 100th with a win as they head into their bye week.
Moana Pasifika v Crusaders
Friday 7th April, kick off 7:05pm NZT
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) & Ray Niuia (shoulder)See all news