"Barrett Returns" - Super Rugby 2023: How the Quarter Finals Shape Up This Weekend - Ruck

“Barrett Returns” – Super Rugby 2023: How the Quarter Finals Shape Up This Weekend

Super Rugby Pacific is entering the closing stages of the season, with the Southern Hemisphere’s premier club rugby competition hosting the quarter finals this weekend.

The Crusaders are the reigning champions, and are seeking their sixth consecutive title. The Christchurch side have been crowned kings of Super Rugby every year since 2017 (including 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa), with the exception of the 2020 pandemic enforced cancellation.

Their triumphant 21-7 victory over the Blues in last year’s final, saw two New Zealand club’s reach the final for the first time since 2015, when the Highlanders triumphed over the Hurricanes. Four New Zealand sides have reached the final eight, which showcases the domestic level dominance from the home of the All Blacks.

Here is a run down of this weekend’s four quarter-final matches, in what is shaping up to be an exciting conclusion to the Super Rugby season.

Auckland Blues v New South Wales Waratahs

All Blacks fly half Beauden Barrett is set to make his return for the all-important quarter final tomorrow. Barrett returns from a heel injury, and is joined by another returnee Bryce Heem in the centre.

Caleb Clarke is yet to recover from a leg injury, which sees AJ Lam start on the left wing for the Blues. Ptrick Tuipulotu is also ruled out, as he suffered a broken arm in the Blues last match against the Highlanders.

Blues Head Coach, Leon MacDonald, said the team are ready for knockout rugby. “We were in early this week to get clarity for what we want to achieve against the Waratahs,” said MacDonald to the All Blacks website.

“What’s happened in the regular season means nothing on Friday night. Knockout footy brings a special kind of intensity, it’s where we learn about players under pressure and we’re looking forward to putting on a performance for our home fans, our friends and families.” 

The Waratahs suffered a shock 33-24 defeat to bottom-placed Moana Pasifika last weekend, who recorded their first win of the season. The New South Wales side are out for redemption in the quarter-finals, with Michael Hooper is looking to become the Waratah’s fourth most capped player.

Hooper captains the side from openside flanker on his 141st Waratahs appearance, and joins up with an altered Waratah’s pack from last weekend. David Porecki returns at hooker, alongside Te Tera Faulkner. Archer Holz will move into the starting side replacing injured Harry Johnson-Holmes.

Head Coach Darren Coleman said to the Waratah’s club website: “After disappointing & letting down our home town supporters in the last regular season game of the year at home on Saturday, we have re-set and are excited by the challenge to redeem ourselves.

“We understand the enormity of the opposition on their home patch, but its something we look forward to ripping into. “We’ve had a good short week of prep and will play like a team with nothing to lose.”

Chiefs v Queensland Reds

The Chiefs have been returned to their usual programming, with the tried and tested starting line-up looking much the same as it has throughout this league-topping season. Chiefs talisman Damian McKenzie leads the line from fly half, with experienced All Blacks Brad Weber and Anton Linert-Brown bolstering the back-line.

Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said to the official Chiefs website : “We look forward to hosting the Reds and playing in front of our passionate supporters in what should be a cracking game at FMG Stadium Waikato.

“They were deserved winners in our last encounter where their tactical kicking game, ability to build high phase counts and greater desperation proved to be the difference.”

The Reds scratched into the play-offs after an eighth placed league finish. James O’Connor will run on for the Reds at inside centre for the sixth time this season, with Hunter Paisami ruled out with a knee injury. Sef Fa’agase will start in the frontrow with Zane Nonggorr set to provide impact as a finisher.

Queensland Reds Head Coach Brad Thorn said to the official club website: “We come into the quarter-final with a great challenge in front us. Finals footy is a step up in intensity, physicality and pressure.

“The Chiefs finished as minor premiers and are deserved favourites in Hamilton this Saturday. They’ve got threats across the park and we will need to be at our best to challenge them this weekend.”

Crusaders v Fijian Drua

Crusaders have announced a key returnee in the front row, as Oli Jager is back to bolster the pack for his first start of the season. The ‘Flying Bull’ has recovered from an untimely knee injury, which had him side-lined for longer than expected.

Ethan Blackadder and former England scrum half Willi Heinz both rejoin the Crusaders forces, ready to make an impact off the bench. Recently announcing he’s heading to Toulon after the 2023 Rugby World Cup, Leicester Fainga’anuku takes to the left wing.

Mitch Drummond takes the starting 9 jersey, with Richie Mo’unga at 10. Mo’unga is hoping to leave Super Rugby on a high, before joins Toshiba in the Japan League One next season.

Fijian Drua Head Coach Mick Byrne has named his matchday 23 for the club’s historic first Super Rugby Pacific quarter final clash. The squad is largely the same as last week which saw the Drua dominate the Queensland Reds 41-17.

Fijian Drua players have been called into the Fiji squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with the Pacific Islanders setting up for an exciting Super Rugby finale before the trip to France. The main change for the Drua is Fijian U20s Captain Motikiai Murray making a surprise debut at openside flanker.

Brumbies v Hurricanes

Wrapping up the weekend is the hotly anticipated clash between the Brumbies and the Hurricanes. The Canberra side have been hit with a tough injury break, as winger Corey Toole is written out of the match with Ollie Sapsford moving out to the left wing.

Polarizing Wallabies fly half Noah Lolesio is named amongst the replacements, as he is coming off the back of a return from injury. Jack Debreczeni is starting in the number 10 jersey for the Brumbies, and prop Lachlan Lonergan is back to full fitness to start at hooker.


Brumbies head coach, Stephen Larkham said to the official club website: “This is the time of year everyone plays for and we’re in a good place heading into a massive challenge against the Hurricanes. “

“It’s disappointing for Tooley to miss out, but he was just not right to go and Ollie has played a lot of rugby on the wing for Hawke’s Bay so we know he’ll do a job for us.

“We love playing at home, and we know we’ll have the crowd behind us so we’ll be ready to go at 7:35pm Saturday night.”

Hurricanes Head Coach Jason Holland has named a largely unchanged side to head to Canberra, Just one change to last weekend’s starting team sees Xavier Numia return to the side at loosehead prop. Numia lines up alongside Dane Coles at hooker and Tyrel Lomax at tighthead, with the Lomax set to make his 50th appearance for the Hurricanes. 

“We’re excited to be into the business end of the season. Bringing momentum into the Quarter-finals was really important for us and getting our performance to where we wanted it last week was key.” Jason Holland said to the official Hurricanes website.

Heading to Canberra, our focus is to continue to build on some of the parts of our game that went really well for us against the Crusaders,” said Holland.