New lease of life for Super Rugby Pacific

Historic season ahead for Super Rugby Pacific as Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua enter fray.

Super Rugby has not been the same since COVID-19 tore it apart two years ago, but Australia and New Zealand will hope two new Pasifika teams will give the southern hemisphere competition a new lease of life this season.

Moana Pasifika are in a Queenstown bubble, while Fijian Drua will be camped on the east coast of Australia for Super Rugby Pacific's inaugural season due to logistical challenges brought by the pandemic.

But the teams' rosters are laden with players with links to the Pacific island nations that have long exported talent to the world while missing out on professional pathways closer to home.

Drua, who played in Australia's now-defunct, lower-tier National Rugby Championship and won the title in 2018, will be the first on show in tomorrow's opening night when they travel to Sydney to play the New South Wales Waratahs.

Moana Pasifika originally had the honour of the season-opener against cross-town rivals, the Blues, but the match was postponed after a rash of COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19 and travel restrictions have plagued the competition throughout, causing South Africa to pull its teams out and Argentine side the Jaguares to fold in 2020.

Perth-based Western Force have been chased out of their Western Australia home due to the state's hard-line policies, and will be based on the east coast of the country.

How the season plays out remains up in the air, with administrators on both sides of the Tasman Sea praying that New Zealand relaxes COVID-19 rules in time to allow free travel.

One thing for certain is that Drua and Moana Pasifika can expect a baptism of fire against experienced Australian and New Zealand opponents. With much invested in their inclusion, they are under pressure to become competitive quickly.

"We've committed, both New Zealand and RA (Rugby Australia), to the next two years and it's really just that - to assess and allow the tournament to settle and establish," RA boss Andy Marinos said last week.

Though some private money is funding the Drua, Moana Pasifika are New Zealand Rugby's project, and two years of thrashings could put the model under strain.

Australia is also under pressure to improve across the board after its five teams were smashed by their New Zealand counterparts in last year's one-off Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

The Blues won that tournament but the Crusaders are favourites to win Super Rugby Pacific and give coach Scott Robertson a sixth championship in as many years. The Chiefs are well positioned to make a big run.

A season of change beckons, the competition will retain several law variations trialled in recent years.

They include allowing players sent off with red cards to be replaced after 20 minutes and for tied matches to be decided by the team that scores first in a 10-minute period of extra time.