Super Rugby Pacific is set to return at the end of the month with the Crusaders and Chiefs kicking off the proceedings on February 24 in Christchurch.
The opening match is a repeat of last year’s semi-final, while the top two Australian sides, the Brumbies and Waratahs, will square off later that evening.
Five RugbyPass writers, Ben Smith, Finn Morton, Hamish Bidwell, Nick Turnbull and Tom Vinicombe, have run their eyes over the new squads and the upcoming schedule and have dusted off their brains after a long off-season to answer some of the most important questions for the year ahead.
Which players are under the most pressure in 2023?
BS: There are many players whose time is ticking in terms of their New Zealand careers. There isn’t one obvious candidate, with many players at crossroads in terms of their New Zealand careers.
Peter Umaga-Jensen has extra competition for midfield time with Riley Higgins at the Hurricanes, particularly if Jordie Barrett is going to be used there as well. Chiefs wing Etene Nanai-Seturo is in need of a big season to really become the explosive player he can be. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck faces a defining season in terms of his rugby union future at the Blues. Mitch Hunt at the Highlanders has to live up to the expectations and investment the franchise has put in him.
FM: All Blacks captain Sam Cane is under immense pressure going into the 2023 season.
The star flanker was ruled out of the All Blacks’ end-of-season tour last year after sustaining an injury against Japan, and his replacement made the most of his absence. Blues flanker Dalton Papali’i was one of New Zealand’s best during their Autumn Nations Series campaign. All Blacks great Ian Jones questioned Cane’s place in the national team on SENZ following Papali’i’s stellar run of form, and he hasn’t been alone in expressing that view. Both players have a point to prove this year, but Papali’i holds the advantage at the moment.