Hollywoodbets Sports Blog: Super Rugby Aotearoa: Tournament Preview

Super Rugby Aotearoa: Tournament Preview

Crusaders Huddle

Darry Worthington previews Super Rugby Aotearoa which is set to get underway late in February. Tournament format, team previews and players to watch - we've got it all!

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

With the South African season having wound down with the Bulls winning absolutely everything, the 2021 rugby season 'down under' is about to kick-off with Super Rugby AU kicking off on the 19th of February and Super Rugby Aotearoa set to kick off a week later. 

Below, we'll run the rule over Super Rugby Aotearoa, looking at the tournament format and how the teams are shaping up heading into the second edition of the competition. Our rugby scribe will also give his verdict on who he thinks will take home the trophy. 

Tournament Format
This year's tournament will follow a very similar format to last year's inaugural one with each side playing each other home and away. The difference this year will be that the top two placed sides at the conclusion of the round-robin phase will square off in a final, which is a refreshing change. 

The tournament does have some rather intricate quirks with no draws being awarded and teams instead of playing extra time should the scores be locked after 80 minutes of any fixture, including the round-robin matches. 

As was the case in Super Rugby, teams will be awarded four points for a win while bonus points can be claimed for scoring three more tries than your opponents or by losing a fixture by seven points or less. 

Team Previews

Crusaders
2020 Finish: Champions
To Win Outright: 12/10

The reigning champions will once again come into a Super Rugby tournament as hot favourites with the bookmakers, and rightly so considering they have won the last three editions of Super Rugby and the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa trophy. 

Speaking of last the last Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, the 'Saders were in fantastic form during the tournament as they registered six wins from their seven fixtures with their only defeat being a 32-34 defeat to the Hurricanes. 

As is always the case, the Crusaders will head into a Super Rugby tournament with a star-studded squad that will feature All Blacks Richie Mo'unga, Jack Goodhue and Sevu Reece as well as the returning George Bridge in the backs, while their pack features Joe Moody, Scott Barrett and evergreen, Luke Romano. 

Will Jordan of the Crusaders
Will Jordan was sensational for the Crusaders last season.

Player to Watch: Will Jordan
Jordan was an absolute try-scoring machine last season scoring six tries in Super Rugby Aotearoa and then scoring two tries in just 14 minutes on his All Black debut. 

The young man is a true x-factor player and he'll pose a real threat to opposing defences throughout the season. He's certainly one to watch this term.  

Blues
2020 Finish: Runners-Up
To Win Outright: 7/2

Will the Blues' renaissance continue without Beuaden Barrett? That will be the question doing the rounds across pubs and rugby clubs across Auckland at the minute. 

The men from New Zealand's capital were highly impressive during the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign as they won five of their seven fixtures on the way to finishing the tournament as runners-up. The Blues' only two defeats of the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa season came at the hands of the Crusaders and the Hurricanes, with the champions needing extra time to get one over Auckland's finest. 

While the absence of Barrett is a major blow to the Blues cause, they are still stocked with some great fly-half talent with Otere Black, Harry Plummer and Stephen Perofeta all on their books. They also have impressive youngster Zarn Sullivan who excellent with the number ten jersey on his back at schoolboy level. 

The Blues are also stocked in other places with their lose forward catalogue the best in the country. Not only do they have recently capped All Blacks Hoskins Situtu and Akira Ioane to call upon but they also have Dalton Papalii, Blake Gibson, Tom Robinson and Dillon Hunt who was recruited from the Highlanders during the off-season. Also watch out for rookie Taine Plumtree who has impressed at Under 20 level. 

Akira Ioane of the Blues
Akira Ioane is the crown jewel in the Blues' loose forward arsenal

Player to Watch: Akira Ioane
It took a lot longer than expected but Akira finally became an All Black last year, and boy did he put in a shift with the black jersey on his back. 

The older of the Ioane brother was in great knick last season and could prove crucial to the Blues chances of going one better than last year and finally winning some silverware. 

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Hurricanes
2020 Finish: Third
To Win Outright: 9/2

2021 could be a long old year for the Hurricanes who have lost another one of their All Black half backs with TJ Perrenara now on sabbatical in Japan. This is a massive blow, especially when you consider that they lost Beauden Barrett - who will also be in Japan for the season - last year. 

They look rather thin on the ground at nine and ten this season with the exciting but yet rather limited Jamie Booth likely to take over from Perrenara, while the smart money will be on Jackson Garden Bachop doing the job at ten again. 

The 'Canes managed to finish last season in third place winning five of their eight fixtures, with their most impressive result being the aforementioned win over the Crusaders. 

Julian Savea
Julian Savea has returned to the Hurricanes from Toulon. 

Player to Watch: Julian Savea
I don't really expect the veteran to have a major impact but I am interested to see how he goes this term and if he gets a bash in the centres or acts as a backup winger. 

Savea was actually decent enough for Wellington during last year's Mitre 10 Cup and managed to grab a few tries and as well as reproduce some of those barnstorming runs that made him a staple in the All Blacks side a half-decade ago. 

Highlanders
2020 Finish: Fourth
To Win Outright: 15/2


Last season was an odd one for the Highlanders with former head coach Aaron Mauger making some weird selection choices in his backline, which saw Mitch Hunt start at 10 for large swathes of the season ahead of All Black Josh Ioane. 

Mauger has now been replaced by Highlanders legend Tony Brown who returns to the seat he vacated in 2017. The 'Landers legend will be looking to guide his team to a superior showing than last season that saw them finish fourth on the log with just three wins from their eight games. 

The Highlanders have lost some solid players during the off-season with flaner Dillon Hunt having switched to the Blues and veteran centre Rob Thompson off to Japan. They did manage to sign some decent players in the off-season, bringing in the likes of Solmano Alimano from the Chiefs. 

Josh Ioane of the Highlanders
Josh Ioane should get more starts at pivot under Tony Brown's Tutelage. 

Player to Watch: Josh Ioane
Ioane will be desperate to get back in the All Black mix, especially with Beuaden Barrett in Japan for the year.

The 25-year-old made a world of difference to the side when he moved from inside centre back to fly-half. He's likely to don the ten jersey for the majority of this season, and will be tasked with getting the best out of a backline that does contain some potent attacking weapons in certain positions. 

Chiefs
2020 Finish: Fifth
To Win Outright: 11/2


Warren Gatland's side were the most disappointing of the bunch last term as they followed up a solid start to the proper Super Rugby season with a dismal showing in Super Rugby Aotearoa which saw them only fail to register a win from their eight games. 

So why were a Chiefs side laden with talent and led by a solid coach so dismal in the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa season? I'm actually still searching for the answer to this question months after the tournament ended. 

What do the Chiefs do differently this term? Well, I personally think they just need to shore up their set piece to be competitive. The return of Brodie Rettalick will be the key to this as the All Black second rower is a dominant line out force and will also help solidify the scrum. 

Like a lot of the sides, the Chiefs have lost some big name players with Aaron Cruden heading to Japan and Nepo Laulala off to the Blues. Warren Gatland will also vacate the head coaching role for the season as he links up with the British and Irish Lions. 

Chase Tiatia
Chase Tiatia has made the move from Wellington to Waikato.

Player to Watch: Chase Tiatia
Tiatia has made the switch from the Hurricanes and will be looking to land a starting berth in this Chiefs side. 

The utility back is blessed with typical New Zealand X-factor but his versatility has made it hard for him to settle in a position. Should the Chiefs opt to field Damien McKenzie at ten - or the All Black suffers another injury - then Tiatia will be a ready-made replacement. He is also able to play on the wing, so should McKenzie remain fit and at 15 then Tiatia may be left to roam the touchline, 

Verdict: Blues 7/2
I really hate doing this but I'll be tipping the Blues to finally come good yet again. They have some great players on their books and a lot of depth. I simply cannot see them mucking a title run up this year. 

Written by Darry Worthington.
All Images Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.

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