Super Rugby Pacific: Quarter-final underdogs out to break NZ stranglehold on silverware

A trio of Australian teams and the Fijian Drua go into the Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finals this weekend looking to break New Zealand's long stranglehold on southern hemisphere provincial rugby.

The Crusaders, the dominant team of the last decade and champions for the last seven years, may have missed out on the playoffs but history will have to be made to end the cycle of New Zealand success.

The Hurricanes, Blues and Chiefs occupied three of the four top spots on the final standings and will have the additional benefit of home advantage in the playoffs.

No Australian side has won a playoff in New Zealand in 28 years of Super Rugby while the Drua, who travel to play the second-placed Blues at Eden Park on Saturday, have not won a single game away from home this season.

The one interloper into the top four was the ACT Brumbies, who finished third in the standings and will therefore host the Otago Highlanders in Canberra in the last quarter-final.

Fijian Drua.
Fijian Drua. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Brumbies reached the semi-finals in the first two seasons of Super Rugby Pacific, losing narrowly to the Chiefs last year, and will be favoured to beat a Highlanders side which has grown into the season on Saturday.

"We were very disappointed after the semi-final last year," Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham said on Thursday.

"It was a long time for us between that semi-final and the start of the season. We've worked really hard over the last year and there's a lot of excitement in the group."

Like all of the Australian teams, the Brumbies will first and foremost have to compete up front against a physical pack of New Zealanders.

The Queensland Reds have done the best job of that this year and boast a record of three wins and two narrow losses against New Zealand opposition, including a 25-19 victory over the Chiefs in Brisbane in March.

The Chiefs might be a different beast on home soil in Hamilton on Friday night but the grit the youthful Queensland team has displayed under new coach Les Kiss this year makes a quarter-final upset a possibility.

The Melbourne Rebels are sure to leave everything on the park when they travel to the New Zealand capital to face the top-ranked Hurricanes on Saturday as defeat will sound the death knell for the franchise after 14 seasons of Super Rugby.

The heavily-indebted outfit just scraped into the playoffs on the back of six straight losses, however, and will need to produce something extraordinary to stop a marauding Hurricanes pack and the lightning home backs in Wellington.

The Drua have been outstanding at home but feeble on the road this year and will also be looking for a historic breakthrough in what is likely to be the most physical of the quarter-finals in Auckland on Saturday.

The Blues have won all three of their matches against the Fijians with an average winning points differential of 19 and have not lost at Eden Park in 13 matches.

There will plenty of emotion in the Drua side, however, as they prepare to bid farewell to coach Mick Byrne before he departs to take over the Fijian national team.

"Coach Mick, on behalf of the boys, it was an honour and a privilege to be guided under your wings," captain Meli Derenalagi said in a tearful tribute to Byrne after last week's victory over the Rebels in Lautoka.

"We go again next week."