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Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa

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Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa

Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa

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Super Rugby Aotearoa is ready to launch as professional sport makes its return in New Zealand.
By Daniel Richardson.

The coronavirus pandemic obliterated the international sporting landscape, and Super Rugby in its traditional form stood no hope of continuing this year.

New Zealand’s progress in fighting the virus meant a Super Rugby competition with only Kiwi teams became a reality.

Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa will run across 10 weeks with every team playing each other twice; no playoffs will be contested, so the club with the most points from their eight matches will claim the crown.

To get things started, the Highlanders will host the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday, June 13th, while the Blues and Hurricanes will meet in Auckland the following day. The Crusaders have the first bye.

One major question will be if any form that was shown in Super Rugby pre coronavirus will be carried over into the Kiwi-only competition.

The Blues, who have struggled in recent seasons, had won five from seven earlier this year and looked to be a much improved product.

There’s also a major boost on the way as they search for a return to their glory days – they will be able to call  upon the services of All Blacks superstar Beauden Barrett.

The former Hurricanes pivot took a break following last year’s Rugby World Cup and moved on from the capital where he spent nine seasons and racked up 125 Super Rugby caps.

Cruden was in vintage touch for the Chiefs before the pandemic

He returned to Blues training following the lockdown in New Zealand, setting fitness records, and his influence on Leon MacDonald’s side could take them to another level.

It seems fitting that Barrett’s Blues will meet the Hurricanes in their first match of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

That said, Hurricanes assistant coach Cory Jane said there was no ill-feeling towards Barrett from their camp.

“There is probably going to be some excitement for both him and our boys about playing each other, but I think the media and supporters may make it out to be more than it is,” Jane says.

“End of the day, the Blues won last time we played in March so that’s motivation enough.”
The competition will be contested with empty stadiums, which will provide a unique environment for the players.

“Everyone loves playing in front of a big crowd, so I think the first couple of games might feel a little weird for some of them,” Jane says.

“But there’s still a game to win and the guys are hungry to make an impact.”

The Chiefs have retained the services of first-five Aaron Cruden who was due in Japan in July, but that move has been put on hold due to coronavirus.

Having an elite backline general has long been a crucial pillar of any Super Rugby team, and it won’t be any different in a competition featuring only New Zealand sides.

Cruden was in vintage touch for the Chiefs before the pandemic put the sporting world on hold, after returning to the franchise following a stint in France.

The 50-test All Black won Super Rugby titles with the Chiefs in 2012 and 2013, proving he has experience in the big matches.

If you look at the South Island you will see a red and black giant in the distance in the form of perennial Super Rugby contenders the Crusaders.

Scott Robertson’s men have won the past three Super Rugby titles and will open the Aotearoa edition as a warm favourite.

Further south, the Highlanders recently made the shock signing of outside back Nehe Milner-Skudder, and the hot-stepping former All Black could add some spark to their attack.

The Highlanders struggled in Super Rugby before coronavirus took hold with one win from six matches, and the 2015 champions will be desperate to turn their fortunes around.

Make sure you catch Super Rugby Aotearoa LIVE on Sky Sport 1 on Saturdays from 5pm and Sundays from 3pm.

Skywatch, June 2020


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