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As the four-year Rugby World Cup cycle resets to year one, the doors are open for a new generation to begin making their mark. And what better way to start than with the 25th season of Investec Super Rugby.

Let’s go back to the first day of March 1996: John Grenell’s Welcome to Our World was No 1 in the Kiwi music charts, petrol was $1.46 a litre, Jim Bolger was Prime Minister, Paul Holmes was king of the airwaves – and rugby became a professional sport.

A near-packed Palmerston North Showgrounds was the venue for the big step into the Brave New World as the Blues and Hurricanes kicked off a season that would end with fans queuing down Sandringham Rd in Auckland for tickets for the final between the Blues and the Sharks.

Investec Super Rugby now enters its 25th season as the backbone of professional rugby in the Southern Hemisphere, a quarter of a century dominated by New Zealand teams, who have claimed 17 of the 24 titles, including an almost ridiculous 10 by the team that finished rock bottom in that first season, the Crusaders.

The odds have to favour that dominance continuing, despite the usual post-Rugby World Cup departures and the rearrangement of New Zealand’s talent pool.

No matter how many players are lured offshore, a combination of smart coaching, good franchise structure and a peerless ability to keep bringing through exciting young talent keeps the Kiwi franchises buzzing.

The depth is extraordinary.

Take the Crusaders, who might be down a test veteran or two, but can still put together a backline of David Havili, George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Braydon Ennor and Richie Mo’unga to serve test-quality halfbacks Bryn Hall and Mitch Drummond. That’s an attack that will have any opponent paying attention.

The overlooking of Scott Robertson as All Blacks coach is very much the Crusaders’ gain, but just as many eyes will be on the wily Warren Gatland as he returns home for a long-overdue Super Rugby coaching role.

Gatland brings some serious chops, and his presence alone means the Chiefs have to be a contender.

In Wellington, fingers will be crossed that new coach Jason Holland settles in quickly and Ardie Savea is back soon. Highlanders fans will pin their hopes on favourite son Tony Brown in his albeitshort- term addition to the coaching staff, while long-suffering Blues fans have cause to expect better things, especially with mega signing Beauden Barrett due for a mid-season arrival.

For a threat to New Zealand’s quarter-century of dominance, it may be time to start looking east rather than the traditional west.

After a messy first few years in which they battled with travel, struggled to find a balance between their traditional strengths and a damn-the-torpedoes attacking game, and sharing the load among a glut of international talent, the Jaguares in 2019 became the force we thought they would be and reached the final.

Of all the teams in Investec Super Rugby, they have suffered the least from the post-Rugby World Cup exodus. Yes, two of their biggest guns have gone in Pablo Matera and the volatile Tomás Lavanini, but they are still loaded with test players. Now the Argentines look right at home in the competition, they might just be ready to go the final step.

By Tony Johnson - Skywatch, February 2020

Sky Sport LIVE:

Sharks v Bulls: Saturday 1st – 6.05am SS1
Sunwolves v Rebels: Saturday 1st – 4.40pm SS1
Crusaders v Waratahs: Saturday 1st – 6.45pm SS1
Stormers v Hurricanes: Sunday 2nd – 2am SS1
Jaguares v Lions: Sunday 2nd – 10.35am SS1
Highlanders v Sharks: Friday 7th – 6.30pm SS1
Brumbies v Rebels: Friday 7th – 9.10pm SS1
Chiefs v Crusaders: Saturday 8th – 6.30pm SS1
Waratahs v Blues: Saturday 8th – 9.10pm SS1
Lions v Reds: Sunday 9th – 2am SS3
Stormers v Bulls: Sunday 9th – 4.10am SS3
Jaguares v Hurricanes: Sunday 9th – 11.55am SS1
Blues v Crusaders: Friday 14th – 6.30pm SS1
Rebels v Waratahs: Friday 14th – 9.10pm SS1
Sunwolves v Chiefs: Saturday 15th – 4.40pm SS1
Hurricanes v Sharks: Saturday 15th – 6.45pm SS1
Brumbies v Highlanders: Saturday 15th – 9.10pm SS1
Lions v Stormers: Sunday 16th – 2am SS1
Jaguares v Reds: Sunday 16th – 11.55am SS1
Crusaders v Highlanders: Friday 21st – 6.30pm SS1
Rebels v Sharks: Saturday 22nd – 4.40pm SS1
Chiefs v Brumbies: Saturday 22nd – 6.45pm SS1
Reds v Sunwolves: Saturday 22nd – 9.10pm SS1
Stormers v Jaguares: Sunday 23rd – 2am SS4
Bulls v Blues: Sunday 23rd – 4.05am SS4
Highlanders v Rebels: Friday 28th – 6.30pm SS1
Waratahs v Lions: Friday 28th – 9.10pm SS1
Hurricanes v Sunwolves: Saturday 29th – 4.15pm SS1
Reds v Sharks: Saturday 29th – 9.10pm SS1