NZ Rugby World
THE FIVE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
1 : CAN THE BLUES GET BETTER AGAIN?
Last year Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu made the point that success for him will be the Blues coming together in 2021 and having the same sense of purpose and identity as they did in 2020.
He basically said they can’t take one step forward and two back anymore and that they have to build on what was a promising campaign in 2020.
And that’s pretty much things wrapped up with them. They won’t have Beauden Barrett so can they glue all their talent into one effective mass? Can they use what is now a formidable pack to win the ball and exert pressure and continue to use the finishing power of Caleb Clarke and Rieko Ioane?
Can they essentially get better and learn how to close out against the Crusaders?
2 : CAN THE CHIEFS BOUNCE BACK?
They didn’t win a single game in Super Rugby Aotearoa last year and the confidence drained out of them as a result.
They lost their way on attack and let frustration infiltrate. The question is how deeply were they damaged? Can they just write off last year as a one-off and get back to being the Chiefs?
Their attack game became confused after a few phases and that is a priority to be fixed and to do that, they will have to commit to a first-five and give him an extended run in the jersey. They also need to find a way to use Damian McKenzie more effectively.
3 : HAVE THE HURRICANES GOT ENOUGH FIREPOWER
Last year the Hurricanes got a lot out of big wings Ben Lam and Kobus van Wyk. They were handy options to have parked either side of the over sized Jordie Barrett and the back three had size and finishing power.
Both wings have gone and in their place have come Julian Savea and Jonah Lowe – proven and unproven.
If these two can show the same sort of form, then the Hurricanes will have the firepower they need to damage teams out wide especially as they have a brutish midfield in Ngani Laumape and Peter Umaga Jensen.
4 : RETAINING THE HUNGER
The only question the Crusaders need to answer is whether they have the hunger to make it five in a row? They have the personnel to win again.
The core of their 2020 team are back. In fact, almost all of their 2020 squad are back and the coaching group is, too.
The challenge for them is to once again find the resolve and desire to push themselves to the brink as they have done for the last four seasons.
This could be Razor Robertson’s last season in charge as he has hinted he might head offshore if nothing opens up for him in the All Blacks soon and that of itself should be the motivation the Crusaders need.
5 : REDISCOVERING THEMSELVES
Tony Brown is a proud Southern man and has strong roots in the region. His association with the Highlanders is long and he’s obviously determined to restore an element of lost identity.
He said as much when he was on Sky’s The Breakdown show – suggesting that the Highlanders had lost their way a bit in that regard under Aaron Mauger.
Brown is one of the smartest coaches in the world game and he’ll find a way to instil pride and certainty in a squad that shouldn’t be seen as limited. Remember how everyone – including us – said the Highlanders were no chance in 2015 and they won?
We underestimated how far pride and cohesion can take a team. We won’t do that again. The Highlanders could once again be an incredibly difficult side to beat.