DYLAN JACK highlights what fans can look forward to when Vodacom Super Rugby Aotearoa gets under way in New Zealand this month.
Live rugby is back
South African sports fans have largely been without live action on their TV screens for the past two months. The kick-off of New Zealand’s domestic competition will mark the return to live rugby in the southern hemisphere for the first time since 18 March. Even if games are scheduled to start early on Saturdays and Sundays, plenty of rugby-starved fans will be getting the coffee and rusks out and enjoying the action.
Barrett’s Blues debut
All Blacks playmaker Beauden Barrett will finally make his long-awaited debut for the Blues against his former side, the Hurricanes, on 14 June. As part of his contract with the Blues, Barrett took an extended break after the 2019 World Cup and was only meant to return to on-field action in mid-April. Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic has prolonged that wait. However, Barrett has since linked up with the Blues squad and if the times in his training drills are anything to go by, he is not lacking for fitness. Barrett will form part of an exciting backline with Reiko Ioane, on-loan England midfielder Joe Marchant, centre TJ Faiane and wing Mark Telea. It will be interesting to see whether the Blues play Barrett at fullback and keep with Stephen Perofeta at flyhalf or if Barrett pulls on the No 10 jersey. Regardless, Barrett could be the final piece in the puzzle in this Blues backline.
Milner-Skudder’s return to New Zealand
Former All Blacks wing Nehe Milner-Skudder has made a surprising return to New Zealand after a short-lived move to France with Toulon. However, the 29-year-old will not be rejoining the Hurricanes – whom he served for five years from 2015 to 2019 – but will instead be appearing in the colours of the Highlanders. Ankle and shoulder injuries have disrupted Milner-Skudder’s career and a player of his talent should have undoubtedly made more than 13 Test appearances. However, a break from the game – during which he was a SuperSport pundit for the 2019 World Cup – will have done him plenty of good mentally and he should be raring to go. A young Highlanders side that struggled during the regular season will be all the better with a player of his talent and experience.
Of course, part of the attraction of the rejigged Aotearoa format is the fact that it solely comprises New Zealand derbies. Gone are the rather predictable games of the regular Super Rugby season and in its place comes a high-stakes tournament where anybody can indeed beat anybody. Plus, with each side playing each other on a home-and-away basis over 10 weeks, it means there is little room for failure –making each game meaningful when it comes to deciding who takes home the silverware.
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