Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan has a personal interest in what he calls an exciting entry by the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika in Super Rugby Pacific this year.
A forwards coach with the Fiji Test side preparing for next year's Rugby World Cup, he was delighted with the Drua's first win, against the Rebels, at the weekend.
Ryan said the introduction of the two Pacific Island sides had been a fillip from a coaching perspective.
"I think it's a good flavour and for them to beat the Rebels is a great boost for them. People probably thought they wouldn't win a game this year, but they'll get better. Once they get fit and get a bit of belief they can upset anyone."
He had first-hand experience of Moana Pasifika when the Crusaders beat them 33-12 at the weekend in an uncompromising contest.
"I think Moana Pasifika can be proud of the energy they brought to the competition, the culture they've got and their point of difference as a team, and it is great for the competition.
"There's probably going to be a bit of pain early with a few scores but they're in the competition and they're making their mark in their own little way and I think it is exciting," he said.
But, with the season introduction behind them, the Crusaders head into a demanding three games. They play the Chiefs at the weekend, then the Blues before playing the Chiefs again.
"It's an intensive period we are coming into. Any Chiefs-Crusaders battle is a bit of a ding-dong. Brodie [Retallick] is a bit of an enforcer in their pack. He's added a bit of steel. They've got ball carriers like Samisoni Taukei'aho, he's in phenomenal form and is a young hooker with a massive future," he said.
While happy and prepared to give the Crusaders' pack a pass mark after three games, Ryan said the Chiefs' scrum was one of the best in the competition under coach Nick White.
"I think that battle is going to be a bit of a boxing match this week. A few rounds might go to one team and a few might go to the other and we're looking forward to that," he said.
The Crusaders view the game as a repeat of last year's final. It brought more of an edge to the preparation, Ryan said.
"They're a good side. They played well for periods of the game last week against the Blues. I thought Sam Cane had a reasonably solid game for early in the season, which is great to see for him.
"I think their forward pack will bring an intensity we haven't come up against this year and we're looking forward to that battle," he said.
There was still a requirement to lift all areas of their game.
"We got the bonus point at the weekend but there were still a lot of areas that were messy. It's important we tidy those up," he said.
Some big names in the mix this week— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) March 7, 2022
Vote for your #SuperRugbyPacific Fan MVP Round 3 winner now https://t.co/TPIfw4y4Me pic.twitter.com/MHHLL51dlG