Super Rugby has launched its 25th season on Friday, although the silver anniversary is most likely to lose its spark following the fact that most stars who performed the miracle in the 2019 World Cup have all scattered.
Looking at the last season of the heavy conference system and one that could say, hey, ‘goodbye’ to the no longer wanted Japanese Sunwolves, the talent space will be highlighted from game one when the Auckland Blues host the Waikato Chiefs.
The Blues’ star signing from the off-season Beauden Barrett, the All Blacks star and double times World Player of the Year has a lengthy holiday embedded in his new contract, and so, he will not be seen until mid-April.
The Blues are not alone in this, as the Chiefs’ Brodie Retallick, another former World Player of the Year, has excused Super Rugby to enable him to play in Japan, although may still be available to play for the All Blacks.
While Retallick’s New Zealand second-row partner Sam Whitelock, who’s one of the five All Blacks missing from the Canterbury Crusaders pack, is in Japan on the same deal.
For the South African team that lifted the World Cup in Japan, most of them are now signed into European and Japanese teams.
The Northern Bulls, and the best of the four South African teams, have bid goodbye to six of their World Cup heroes including Lood de Jager, Duane Vermeulen, and Handre Pollard.
The cross-carpet ran through every Super sidebar the Jaguares, primarily Los Pumas in disguise who, after losing last year’s final to the Crusaders must now fancy their chances of going one better.
The Crusaders forward pack which worked out the platform for their consecutive victories over the past three years has been decimated with retirements and sabbaticals for Whitelock, Kieran Read, Jordan Taufua Owen Franks, and Matt Todd along with backline general Ryan Crotty.
Time for the next crop to come through
Coach Scott Robertson has taken a positive approach to the loss of his super playmakers.
“Obviously a lot of those guys have been part of the furniture here for a long time, so there is a real fresh feel around the place,” he said.
“Naturally, when you lose a lot of leaders it’s time for the next crop to come through and take a bit more on their shoulders. I think that’s what we’ve done as a leadership group so far this year.”
This’s also the view of ACT Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar who lost 157 Test caps with the movement of David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Henry Speight, Rory Arnold, and Sam Carter after the World Cup.
McKellar said he would rather pick players from his younger squad than going out to buy big names as replacements for the out-gone talents.
“To bring someone in externally to train them up on what’s expected of them on-field and off-field, there’s a whole lot of work there and you’re not necessarily going to get it right,” McKellar said.
“So we’ll back the young guys. They’re young guys but we’re backing them because they’re ready to go and they’ll be ready to go on the 31st,” he added.
The Brumbies open against the Queensland Reds who have picked up James O’Connor and Henry Speight to join Jordan Petaia and Samu Kerevi in a potent looking backline.
While, the Bulls play the Sharks who are without the “Beast” Mtawarira, along with Ruan Botha and the du Preez brothers.
The Sunwolves start their final season against the Rebels and the Crusaders play the NSW Waratahs.
The Stormers, who have kept Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit while Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende have been signed to France and Japan, play the Wellington Hurricanes and the Jaguares are at home to the Golden Lions.