Darry Worthington previews the opening round of the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season, which will get underway on Friday, 26 February.
Image Copyright – Steve Haag Sports
New Zealand domestic rugby makes its return this week with the start of the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season. Rugby fans and punters are in for a decent old opening round with the tournament throwing up two rather interesting fixtures with the reigning champions, the Crusaders, taking on a seemingly rejuvenated Highlanders side and last year’s runners-up, the Auckland Blues, traveling to Wellington to take on a new look ‘Canes outfit.
Highlanders v Crusaders
Friday 26 February
To Win (80 Mins)
Highlanders 9/10 (+6.5)
Crusaders 9/10 (-6.5)
Tony Brown will be looking for a solid start at the helm when his Highlander’s side take on Scott Robertson’s all conquering ‘Saders outfit.
The visitors had a great time of it last season as they won the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa title. They were extremely impressive during the ‘comp last year only suffering one defeat during the entire season. They come into Friday’s clash as hot favourites with the ‘books, and considering they have last season’s top points scorer and try scorers on their ‘books – Richie Mo’unga and Will Jordan – you can understand why the books have installed them at 34/100 to take this one.
The ‘Landers are likely to give the ‘Saders a tough time of here. While they struggled last season – only registering three wins and a fourth-place finish – they look a much better side under the tutelage of Brown.
In terms of team news, the visitors are almost at full strength with the only first stringer missing being Brydon Ennor who is still recovering from a serious injury he sustained in last year’ North versus South match. Ennor’s absence means that George Bridge plays at 13 with youngster Dallas Mcleod given the nod at 12.
On the host’s side of things, they welcome back All Black Liam Squire who will enter the game from the bench.
Verdict: Highlanders 9/10 (+6.5)
The Crusaders tend to start off campaigns rather slowly which is why I’ll be having a crack on the hosts to keep it within the handicap.
Hurricanes v Blues
Saturday 27 February
To Win (80 Mins)
Hurricanes 9/10 (+1.5)
Blues 9/10 (-1.5)
Next up is the headline clash of the weekend with the Hurricanes taking on the Blues at the ‘Cake Tin’ The visitors enjoyed a fantastic inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign as they finished the tournament as runners-up. The Hurricanes had a less successful tournament and registered a rather lacklustre third-place finish.
Both teams have lost some big names during the off-season with TJ Perrenarra (Hurricanes) and Beauden Barrett (Blues) heading off on sabbaticals to Japan.
In terms of the off-season warm-up games. the Blues were mightily impressive in last weekend’s Game of Three Halves which saw them beat both the Crusaders and Chiefs by comfortable margins.
The two sides met twice last year in Super Rugby Aotearoa with the Blues winning the Eden Park fixture 30-20 and the ‘Canes winning the game at the Westpac 29-27.
Looking at the team news now and the Hurricanes are likely to be without Dan Coles and Reed Princep who are still a bit away from being 100 per cent fit, while the Blues haven’t made any announcements regarding team selection or player fitness at this point. It will, however, be interesting to see who starts at 10 and 15 for the Aucklanders as they have a number of players capable of filling those roles.
Verdict: Blues 17/20
I think the loss of TJ Perrenarra is going to be massive for the ‘Canes. He was the lynchpin for this side and they look far weaker with him absent. I also really do like the look of this Blues team, which is filled with world-class talent.