Analysis: How Moana Pasifika's upset win shakes up playoff mix

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

Moana Pasifika’s stunning 32-22 victory over the Brumbies at Mount Smart Stadium on Saturday night – only their second win of the season – has dramatically changed the likely make-up of the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs.

Sekope Kepu dances on the Mount Smart Stadium pitch after Moana Pasifika shocked the Brumbies in their final match of the season.

The Brumbies’ defeat, their third in a row, has dropped them from third on the table to fourth, putting the Canberra-based team into a quarter-final against the Hurricanes next weekend rather than the Waratahs, their fellow Australians.

Should the Brumbies win, and results go to the favourites, they will face the Blues, who celebrated a record-breaking 13th consecutive win after beating the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday, in a semifinal the following weekend at Eden Park.

Moana’s surprise result has allowed the Chiefs to move up to third on the table, meaning they will play the Waratahs in their quarter-final (rather than the Hurricanes), and perhaps even more significantly, potentially the Crusaders in their semifinal.

The Crusaders, having sewn up second place on the table on Friday with their scrappy victory over the Reds in Christchurch, may have assumed that their potential semifinal opposition would have been the Brumbies or Waratahs rather than a Chiefs team who have already beaten them at Orangetheory Stadium this season.

The Crusaders, who will welcome back All Blacks Richie Mo’unga and Codie Taylor, will be confident of putting in a more assured performance against the Reds next Friday in their quarter-final.

But the Chiefs, who scraped home by one point over the Fijian Drua in Lautoka on Saturday, loom as a far more dangerous semifinal opponent for the Crusaders than either the Brumbies or Waratahs.

The Crusaders comfortably beat the Brumbies in Canberra this season and a re-match against the Waratahs would have been a chance for redemption after their disappointing defeat in Sydney a fortnight earlier.

Crusaders wing Leicester Fainga'anuku has a disagreement with the Reds during his team's scrappy win in Christchurch.

The Highlanders will qualify for eighth and the final quarter-finals spot should they beat the Rebels in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon. The match is scheduled to kick off at 4pm.

For Moana Pasifika, the result in their final match of the season came after their skipper Sekope Kepu was sent off after only 11 minutes for a high tackle in his 150th Super Rugby match.

That they got the job done without him left him overjoyed - and dancing on the pitch afterwards.

“I’m super, super proud of the guys,” Kepu said. “I couldn’t be more proud. I don’t think anyone has done it tougher than what we’ve been dealt. The way the team played out of their skin, tonight - the passion, the power and excitement.

“The positive is that everyone has had taste of rugby, everyone has had a go, know what is expected and the level Super Rugby is played at. No one has ever done it the way we have. I’m so proud of the boys.”

In their inaugural season, Moana Pasifika have had to deal with Covid outbreaks and a brutal re-arranged schedule.

Their other win was a golden point nail-biter against the Hurricanes. Few would have expected them to fire a shot in their final run. That they did, shaking up the table in the process, bodes well for their future.

Coach Aaron Mauger said he felt that a special performance had been building.

“Heading into the week, we had a sense the boys were in a really good place for this one and I thought we adapted really well early on. The Brumbies were awesome around the collision, and we were probably a little high early one, but once we got our body height and acceleration right through contact a little bit better we were able to build a bit more pressure.”

“There was a lot of desire there to put in a good performance.”

Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finalists:

Friday, June 3 (7.05pm): Crusaders v Reds at Orangetheory Stadium.

Saturday, June 4 (4.35pm): Chiefs v Waratahs at FMG Stadium Waikato

Saturday, June 4 (7.05pm): Blues v Highlanders or Force at Eden Park

Saturday, June 4 (9.45pm): Brumbies v Hurricanes at GIO Stadium.