.Th Super Rugby Aotearoa season kicks off its 2021 season this weekend and all eyes will be on what many consider to be the best domestic product in the game. The Highlanders and the Crusaders will begin proceedings on Friday before an exciting-sounding clash between the Hurricanes and the Blues on Saturday. The Chiefs will be sitting out Round 1 and waiting to make an impact next weekend.
Here is a look at the two games in Round 1:
Highlanders vs. Crusaders
Friday, February 26 – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
It will be electric from the off in Dunedin as 12 All Blacks will be playing in this Friday night tilt. That number includes Crusaders skipper Scott Barrett who will be back at lock after missing the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa with a foot injury. He will be at the heart of a fearsome Crusders’ pack that includes new All Black Cullen Grace at No. 8.
The Highlanders will be blooding a couple of new faces in this one and that includes Billy Harmon – a Maori All Black who joined from the Crusaders in the offseason – at No. 7. Another new recruit who will be looking to instantly make a name for himself is former Chief Solomon Alaimalo. He will start for the Highlanders at No. 15 having generally played for the Chiefs on the wing. As always, this team will go as far as the exceptional Aaron Smith can carry them on his broad scrum-half shoulders.
The Crusaders have won six on the bounce against the Highlanders and the defending champions have such a strong squad that it is hard to make an argument for the home side here. Take the form from last season and back the Crusaders to cover the 6.5 spread at 0.85 with BetXChange.
Hurricanes vs. Blues
Saturday, February 27 – Sky Stadium, Wellington
The big news coming into this one is that the Hurricanes will give a start to returning fan-favorite Julian Savea on the wing in Wellington against the Blues. Savea returns after departing for France in 2018 after 52 tries in 120 matches for the ‘Canes. He was a big signing for the Hurricanes after both Ben Lam and Kobus van Wyk picked up contracts in Europe for this season. Their back-row is loaded with talent to the point that Reed Prinsep and Du’Plessis Kirifi both start on the back behind a scary athletic trio of Vaea Fifita, Ardie Savea, and Devan Flanders.
The prop-heavy Blues will start All Black – and former Chief – Nepo Laulala alongside James Lay, who will be making his Super Rugby Aotearoa debut. This means that Karl Tu’inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi – both All Blacks – will be coming off of the bench. The halves pairing of Sam Nock and Otere Black – behind the powerful back-row of Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, and Hoskins Sotutu – is one that should flourish in 2021.
This is probably the best game of all the matches this weekend in Australia, New Zealand, and the Six Nations. There is no reason the Hurricanes can’t win this outright and in what is essentially pick-em in terms of talent I like the home side to sneak over the line.