The coronavirus crash-tackled the 2020 Super Rugby competition out of existence. But the Kiwi franchises are here to revive the 15-a-side game courtesy of the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition. It’s wall-to-wall derby blockbusters for 10 weeks – with a couple of rippers to get underway in Round 1.
History: Played 33: Chiefs 18 V Highlanders 14 (1 Draw)
Last meeting: May 4, 2019: 31-all draw at Forsyth Barr Stadium
Final Thoughts: The first Super Rugby Aotearoa match will be staged in Dunedin – but the hosts find themselves rank outsiders to win the historic clash against the Chiefs. The Highlanders are $31 longshots to win the 10-week competition after woeful pre-coronavirus start to 2020. The depleted side won just one of their five early-season games, losing their last to the Rebels (28-22) at home and Bulls (38-13) away.
The Highlanders have picked up former All Blacks World Cup winner Nehe Milner-Skudder for this competition. But their deficiencies run fan deeper than the back-three.
The Chiefs were shaping as arguably the Crusaders’ biggest threat before Super Rugby was torpedoed by COVID-19. They won four of their six games – including an upset of the three-time champs – but finished with a narrow home defeat to the Hurricanes. The Warren Gatland-coached side is brimming with game-breaking class and engine-room grit, while Aaron Cruden’s return to the franchise has so far been a resounding success.
The Chiefs are on the second line of Super Rugby Aotearoa betting at $3.30 for the title.
After a three-match Chiefs winning streak, the Highlanders had the better of this close-fought rivalry in 2019. The southerners bagged an impressive 24-15 win in Hamilton, before the teams played out a thrilling 31-all draw in Dunedin. But the latter was a moral victory for the Chiefs, who trailed by 16 points with 21 minutes left and snatched a share of the spoils with a last-minute try.
Expect both sides to be rusty before the Chiefs run away with.
15:05 (AEST), Sun 14th Jun @ Eden Park, Auckland
History: Played 33: Hurricanes 17 V Blues 14 (2 Draws)
Last meeting: March 7, 2020: Blues 24 d Hurricanes 15 at Sky Stadium
Final Thoughts: The pandemic stopped the Blues’ most promising campaign in years in its tracks. The long-underperforming Aucklanders crafted a 5-2 record, including a pair of wins in South Africa and a 24-15 upset of this week’s opponents, the Hurricanes.
The Blues have also been the talk of this revamped competition. The impending Blues debut of Beauden Barrett against the team he steered to the 2016 title was mouth-watering enough. But the shock signing of All Blacks G.O.A.T. No.10 and Crusaders legend Dan Carter has virtually guaranteed an Eden Park sellout. Barrett and Carter could be the keys to unlocking the Blues’ unbridled potential – and limiting their famed inconsistency.
The Hurricanes made a steady 4-2 start to 2020. They are clearly missing Barrett’s influence but edged the Chiefs 27-24 on the road in their last assignment. Their backline is dripping with tryscoring strike, while Dane Coles, Ardie Savea and Vaea Fifita headline a dynamic pack.
The Hurricanes won 10 of their previous 11 against the Blues. But last season’s two tight contests hinted a boilover was brewing: the ’Canes won 22-12 in Auckland and 29-24 in Wellington.
The Blues are on the third line of Super Rugby Aotearoa betting at $6. The Hurricanes are at $8. The home side deserves their favouritism here, but the hype puts a ton of pressure on a team notoriously poor at handling it. Expect this to go down to the wire.