All Blacks / YouTube
Super Rugby’s back and it’s supposed to be better.
The new season was launched in Auckland on Monday, to the usual fanfare and expectations around the campaigns ahead for New Zealand’s five teams
There’s a new slogan, ‘don’t miss a thing’, a song ‘Play the Game’ by New Zealand rapper Kings and a snazzy promotional video.
Marc Hinton / Stuff
It’s all part of the plan to get people reinvigorated about Super Rugby, to once again get behind their local team and perhaps even understand how the competition’s format works.
The message in the promo video is to portray the excitement from a Super Rugby game and highlight some of the stars.
It’s all done in one shot that pans from left to right, featuring several scenes, with not all of them having anything to do with rugby, like a dog, a guy on a motorbike and a cuddly toy.
Blues winger Matt Duffie did reveal when interviewed on stage at the launch that the dog flying through air, wasn’t actually there, but added in after.
There were two players from each franchise at the launch, mostly those who were injured and other who you wouldn’t really call household names.
The launch’s MC Sela Alo from Flava FM, did appear to struggle knowing some of the players, addressing the Hurricanes’ Isaia Walker-Leawere and James Lentjes from the Highlanders as: “my man,” rather than by their names.
However, that’s not really important, but what is, is the upcoming season and whether it will be another one where the New Zealand teams are again so dominant.
The format for this year (yes, it’s hard to keep up), now that the Force, Cheetahs and Kings are gone is that the top team from each conference advances to the quarterfinals, plus the five teams with the next best records.
It’s yet another change people will have to get their head around, but it is simpler to understand.
“I suppose it had to change from last year, just because the travel schedule for a lot of teams was getting pretty hectic,” Highlanders’ Elliot Dixon said.
“There were too many teams with a Super 18 and having lesser teams suits everyone a bit better.
“It is tougher for the New Zealand teams though because we have to play each other twice and they’re always big and physical games, but they’re exciting games to get up for.”
Once again, the Crusaders are the favourites, Scott Robertson took them back to the glory days under Robbie Deans last year, but their All Blacks prop Joe Moody says they’re not looking at 2018 like that.
“You’ve got to have a bit of a reset because nothing is a given,” Moody said.
“We are the Super Rugby champs from 2017, but that means absolutely nothing coming into 2018.
“We’ve come off a good year but now it’s time to do it all over again and do it even better than last year.”
The Hurricanes are the second favourites. With a fairly settled side, they could make it to their third final in four years and Canes fullback Jordie Barrett feels retaining most of their squad is a big plus.
“That’s a positive for us,” he said.
“We haven’t lost too many guys and we’ve got a good youthful group coming through, a lot of Under 20 boys who have been in the system and been waiting in wings to have an opportunity, it’s healthy competition at the moment.”
The Chiefs haven’t done as well at fending off French raids, with halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow gone to La Rochelle and first-five Aaron Cruden at Montpellier.
Chiefs winger Toni Pulu believes they’ve got good replacements though.
“We’ve lost Tawera and Aaron, but Brad (Weber) has been here for four or five seasons now and he can fill the shoes of Tawera and we’ve also got Damien (McKenzie) who’ll be starting at No 10 and he’s a quality first-five.”
For the Blues, managing not to be New Zealand’s worst team would be a step in the right direction, but after so many years in the doldrums, their winger Duffie said, they know they need to give their fans something to cheer about again.
“It’s a really important year for us,” he said.
“We’ve had two years under Tana and we probably came up short last year.
“We need to start knocking off those other New Zealand teams which has been a big hurdle for us. It’s exciting times, but also important times for us.”