Ahead of the 2018 Super Rugby season we take a closer look at each of the 15 teams participating. Next up, it’s the Hurricanes.
Jon Plumtree makes the step up to head coach with Chris Boyd having gone to Northampton Saints. It should be a fairly smooth transition as Plumtree has plenty of experience as head coach with the likes of the Sharks and New Zealand under-20 side.
He will be looking to make it two titles in three years after the aching disappointment of falling at the final hurdle last time out.
This year: They face the Bulls and Jaguares first up before welcoming the Crusaders to Westpac Stadium in Round three. Whether they can inflict a serious psychological blow on the defending champions early in the competition could be pivotal to their hopes. Their fixture list has not been made any easier by the fact that they must face the top three New Zealand teams in the Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs twice each.
Key players: Although he is only set to return in round three from a long layoff due to shoulder surgery, Jordie Barrett has been using his free time well by putting on half a dozen extra kilos in the gym. The thinking behind this bulking up is that it would make him more suited to playing in midfield, where he played at age-grade level.
But Barrett the Younger will face stiff opposition for a centre berth from the competition’s top-scorer of last season Ngani Laumape, who like Jordie earned his first All Blacks cap in the British and Irish Lions series, both acquitting themselves well. Possessing a low centre of gravity, Laumape is the ultimate battering ram in midfield.
Players to watch: Watch out for the new sensation of New Zealand rugby. Hooker Asafo Aumua rose to prominence, scoring a hat-trick in the final of the Under 20 Championships against England in Georgia last year. He had a wonderful season for Wellington in the Mitre 10 cup last season. Just a quick look at his showreel will tell you Aumua is deceptively quick for a front row.
Labelled by Steve Hansen ‘as the best athlete I’ve had anything to do with’ and ‘just about one of the fastest people we’ve got in the team so that’s not bad for a 6’, Vaea Fifita burst on to the scene when he outpaced the Argentine backline to score a magnificent long-range individual athlete. With the pace of a wing, he is already being compared to Jonah Lomu.
Prospects: The Hurricanes have strengthened well in the off-season while not losing any real key players except perhaps Leni Apisai. With this in mind, we see no reason why they cannot make a third successive title. However, if they are to challenge the Crusaders, it is their forward pack that needs to go up a level as they probably have the best backline in the competition.
Players In: Asafo Aumua (Wellington), Jamie Booth (Manawatu), Finlay Christie (Chiefs), Murray Douglas (Rebels), Gareth Evans (Highlanders), Alex Fidow (Wellington), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Rebels), Sam Henwood (Counties Manukau), Johan Lowe (Hawke’s Bay), Toby Smith (Rebels), TJ Va’a (Wellington), Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington), Ihaia West (Blues)
Players Out: Mark Abbott (Red Sparks), Pita Ahki (Connacht), Leni Apisai (Blues), Otere Black (Blues), James Broadhurst (retired), Geoffrey Cridge (Hawke’s Bay), Callum Gibbins (Glasgow), Toa Halafihi (Lyon), Cory Jane (Brave Lupus), Mike Kainga (Taranaki), James O’Reilly (Wellington), Kylem O’Donnell (Taranaki), Hugh Renton (Hawke’s Bay), Chris Smylie (North Harbour), Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi (Chiefs), Loni Uhila (Clermont)
Saturday, February 24 v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Saturday, March 3 v Jaguares (Velez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires)
Saturday, March 10 v Crusaders (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
ROUND 5: BYE
Saturday, March 24 v Highlanders (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Friday, March 30 v Rebels (AAMI Stadium, Melbourne)
Friday, April 6 v Sharks (TBC)
Friday, April 13 v Chiefs (TBC)
ROUND 10: BYE
Friday, April 27 v Sunwolves (TBC)
Saturday, May 5 v Lions (TBC)
Friday, May 11 v Blues (TBC)
Friday, May 18 v Reds (TBC)
Friday, May 25 v Crusaders (TBC)
Friday, June 1 v Highlanders (TBC)
Saturday, June 30 v Brumbies (GIO Stadium, Canberra)
Saturday, July 7 v Blues (TBC)
Friday, July 13 v Chiefs (TBC)