Professional rugby union roars back into the spotlight this weekend as the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition kicks off in New Zealand with a pair of matches in Round 1. The logistical challenges of Super Rugby – mainly its teams being spread over four continents – meant that a full competition in 2020 was always going to be a no go thanks to the Coronavirus. Instead, we will get some regional competitions that will be played over fewer rounds but which will be played with high levels of intensity.
The Aotearoa comp kicks off with some old names in new places and with the competition favorites the Crusaders taking their bye. Here are the games that will be played:
Highlanders vs. Chiefs
Saturday, June 13 – Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
The Highlanders and the Chiefs will be the first teams to take the field and experience Super Rugby with a few twists. Important law changes to remember for this first round include the addition of Golden Point – the first team to score after a full-time draw wins the game – and a red card rule where a player can be replaced by another 20 minutes after they have been sent from the field. With no playoffs or final at the end of the year the Golden Point rule could easily determine which team wins the first – and perhaps only – Super Rugby Aotearoa Competition.
Almost 20,000 tickets have been sold for this one as New Zealand was able to quash the Covid-19 virus with no active cases in the country. They will get to see a couple of players on debut for the home team in winger Sam Gilbert and playmaker Viimoni Koroi on the bench. Koroi – a sevens standout – has been able to link up with the squad only because of the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The battle at first five will be interesting here. Josh Ioane is starting in the 10 jumper for the Highlanders and the Chiefs have surprised many by naming Kaleb Trask in the starting lineup opposite him. This means that vastly experienced pivot Aaron Cruden will be entering this one off of the bench. Look for big games from the likes of Lachlan Boshier – in his 50h Chiefs game, prop Nepo Laulala, and fullback Damian MacKenzie.
The Highlanders didn’t look good in the early rounds of the Super Rugby competition so we have no faith in them. The rust will work in the Highlanders favour to keep the score down. Take the Chiefs to win by 6-10 (3.75) or 11-15 (4.25) with BetXChange.
Blues vs. Hurricanes
Sunday, June 14 – Eden Park, Auckland
- Blues – 0.45
- Hurricanes – 1.80
- Draw (at full time) – 25.00
As many as 40,000 people could be jammed into Eden Park for this one as the Blues will be playing with more expectation from their home crowd than we have seen in years.
All eyes will be on Beauden Barrett in his Blues debut, though he is unlikely to wear the No. 10 shirt that he took to back-to-back World Rugby Player of the Year honors in 2016 and 2017. The first five jersey will also not be worn by newest recruit Dan Carter – himself a former three-time World Rugby Player of the Year winner (2005, 2012, 2015) – a player the Blues swooped up from Japan and who will likely have to wait to find his way onto the Eden Park pitch.
This means that Otere Black will be the player tasked with leading the Blues around the paddock, a role he performed well as the Blues won five of seven to start their Super Rugby campaign where they sat second in the conference when the Coronavirus struck. Barrett will start his Blues career at 15 and the options the team has in the playmaking positions are frightening.
Barrett will not be facing younger brother Jordie as he is struggling with a shoulder injury. The injury is being monitored and with such a short season ahead there are some worries that the All Blacks utility will miss a decent chunk of the campaign. Barrett’s replacement in the No. 15 shirt will likely be Chase Tiatia.
If pre-season testing is anything to go by then the addition of a fully fit and focused Beaden Barrett will only benefit a Blues team that was already looking like a contender in the Super Rugby competition. Expect the home team to start hot here with a win for the Blues by 11-15 (5.00) or 16-20 (7.75) more than possible if they get an early try or two.