• Welcome Back Super Rugby

    The beginning of a new Super rugby season will be welcomed by most, but not by everyone.  For those not sold on rugby, it can mean long hours on winter evenings, consigned to watching something, in the flesh or on the screen, that may be virtually unintelligible to them.  And, while the summer sun still shines, it will have to compete with the Winter Olympics and the Blackcaps series versus England for the attention of sports fans.

    But those of us who follow and enjoy our national game will have real cause to celebrate.  Six Nations rugby (give or take the odd England defeat at Murrayfield)and Northern Hemisphere club competitions are all very well, but if you want to see the world’s best rugby, displayed week after week, there is no substitute for what Super rugby has to offer.

    The most intense competition and the highest level of skills are to be found in Super rugby, and in domestic derbies in particular.  The Australians and South Africans, Argentines and Japanese, have their part to play of course, albeit with fewer teams this year, but the record shows that they usually contribute no more than supporting roles.

    For the true rugby aficionado, it is not just the outcome of the competition itself that matters.  Yes, of course, we want our teams to win, both each match and the championship as a whole.  But there is much else to look out for, other than the team results, much of it concerning the performances and fortunes of individual players.

    Will, for example, experienced players who have been absent through injury or for other reasons – Brodie Retallick or Ben Smith or Jordie Barrett – come back as though they have never been away?  Will the emerging stars of last season – Rieko Ioane or Ngani Laumape, or Richie Mo’unga or Asafo Aumua – come back to a new season with all guns blazing again?

    And what new names will emerge – to spark our interest and raise our hopes?  And how will we make good the loss of Lima Sapoaga or James Lowe?  Will Damian MacKenzie make the transition apparently required of him, not only by the Chiefs but by the All Blacks as well?

    Will our established world-class stars – Beaudie Barrett or Sam Whitelock or Sam Cane or Aaron Smith –  effortlessly recapture their high standards?  Will Julian Savea force his way back into the All Blacks or Patrick Tuipulotu cement his place in the squad?  Will Jerome Kaino re-establish his claim to the Number 6 jersey?  Will Augustine Pulu or Brad Weber take up where Tawera Kerr-Barlow left off?  And what will all of this mean for the All Black selectors and their continued quest to fashion a team that will win the World Cup next year, to say nothing of beating England at Twickenham later this year?

    And we should not overlook the Championship itself.  Like many fans, no doubt, I have loyalties to more than one contender and more than one coach.  I will be content if the prize goes to any one of the New Zealand teams, even, praise be, the Blues under Tana Umaga.

    And a question for each of us to answer.  Do we realise how privileged we are to see by far the best team game in the world played by the world’s top players in our own back yard?  What better sporting spectacle can there be than a thrilling contest of skill and spirit and courage, individual brilliance and instinctive teamwork, fought out by players so well-known to us that they are almost friends or family members?

    Rugby is, after all, our national game.  It has that status not just because we happen – men and women, boys and girls – to play it better than anyone else or because it is followed with passion by thousands of Kiwis.  Rugby has, for good or ill – and any objective assessment would strike the balance on the positive side – been a major influence in shaping our national identity.  It has brought our founding races together and it continues to provide a small nation with international standing and a powerful reason for national pride and confidence.

    Welcome back, Super rugby!

    Bryan Gould

    24 February 2018