MARK KEOHANE looks at the big men who could play an important role in the 2014 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament.
JEROME KAINO (BLUES)
Kaino was the All Blacks’ star player at the 2011 World Cup and was unlucky not to be named the IRB Player of the Year. Kaino can play No 8 or blindside flank and his experience will be invaluable to the Blues, who were shown up for their youthfulness and naivety in 2013. Kaino’s leadership will also be important to the Blues challenge. He is expected to start at No 8, which will allow Steven Luatua to focus on the blindside flank role.
SAM CANE (CHIEFS)
The All Blacks successor to Richie McCaw excelled for the national side in 2013 but was used sparingly in the Chiefs’ Super Rugby title defence. Cane often played second fiddle to Tanerau Latimer, but coach Dave Rennie was clear that the demands of the competition made the decision an easy one in 2013. Cane was outstanding in the Rugby Championship when deputising for the injured McCaw. Expect him to mature from boy to man in 2014.
DOMINIC BIRD (CRUSADERS)
Sam Whitelock is the best No 5 lock in the world, but the All Blacks selectors will be watching his second-row mate Bird more closely. Bird is highly rated and played for the All Blacks against Japan. He is the tallest lock in New Zealand rugby and was in demand with all the franchises. The Blues, in particular, made a huge play for the giant and coach John Kirwan flew to Christchurch in an attempt to convince him to be a part of the Blues culture. Bird wanted to stay with the Crusaders and learn his trade alongside Whitelock. Smart move. It’s already earned him an All Blacks Test debut.
MATÍAS DÍAZ (HIGHLANDERS)
Having lost All Blacks tighthead veteran Tony Woodcock back to the Blues, the Highlanders are investing in the 20-year-old Argentinian prop. He was a member of the Pumas’ 2013 Rugby Championship squad and played another three times for them against tier-two opposition. He represented Argentina at the 2012 and 2013 Junior World Championships and, despite playing locally for Teque Rugby Club, was still good enough to make the senior squad in 2013.
ARDIE SAVEA (HURRICANES)
Victor Vito is the more experienced of the Hurricanes loose forwards and Brad Shields would not be lost in a Test squad, but it’s Savea who has been earmarked to be the story of the season. He captained New Zealand U20s in 2013 and was named IRB U19 Player of the Year in 2012. He is the younger brother of All Blacks wing Julian Savea and showed enough in the 2013 national provincial championship for the hype to be warranted. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes Savea has the X factor to transfer his talents seamlessly to the national side.
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