All the time fans are spending on holidays, they can rest assured that Super Rugby 2021 sides are not. Working off the extra pounds is a player’s annual tradition and some haven’t even rested, as they feel the heat of their summer workout.
The evidence is there for many, the delayed provincial rugby season has given a secondary bonus. Coaches have noticed a marked difference in conditioning, as the short break between Mitre 10 Cup and the beginning of preseason in early January is closer than ever. For Leon MacDonald, he sees benefits for Super Rugby 2021. “It has been a shortish break, which means the guys have returned in pretty good knick, which is good. We’re not trying to strip a tonne of fat off them.”
The ACT Brumbies have gone a step further. The 2020 Super Rugby Australia champions forgo extended holidays so that the team could get a jump on preparations. By January 4, the squad assembled and began their summer workout. And why is that emphasized? Because when the thermometer hits 30′, rugby training can feel like hell.
True, it occurs each season in the Southern hemisphere during the month of January and February. But, it is a major step towards any one of the two competitions’ franchise’s main focus – a Super Rugby 2021 title.
Summer workout – Super Rugby 2021
Contrasts between the hemispheres might have a simple enough explanation. Different seasons and Northern hemisphere teams do start their own training in late summer/autumn, yet it translates into the energy needed by these sides downunder to push through the conditions.
Established team members know the routines. Seasoned veterans can offer some advice to youngsters, who might ‘blow out’ if they try too much, too early. Conditioning is about building up to the start of Super Rugby 2021. That is February 16 for the Australian teams, and one week later for Aotearoa franchises.
— Jacaranda News (@JacaNews) November 11, 2020
As seen above, the 2019 champion ACT Brumbies are still looking to be leaders in that group. With a still young and confident Queensland Reds team chasing, that seems to be the top pairing. Though even while any season is hard to predict, so it would be impossible to write off the likes of the NSW Waratahs, the Melbourne Rebels, and the recently restored Western Force.
The Brumbies are due to play a trial on January 30, subject to state health restrictions due to Covid-19, so those are to be confirmed. Interstate travel might still prove a hindrance yet the recent reduction in cases is a positive. If that downward trend continues, then updated trial dates can be agreed to.
Unfortunate for each side, a recent camp for the champions was a bonding session to boost morale. Not as much a session (like in the past) but one of internal motivation. This will prove how well the summer workout has built a solid base for their campaign. And now that returning Wallaby players have rejoined [after their elongated break], the full squads have been named for the 2021 season.
New Zealand still the most contested competition
This is no insult. It is simply fact. The last years of combined Super Rugby have been dominated by New Zealand sides. The Highlanders, Hurricanes, and the Crusaders have each claimed the title. And on multiple occasions now, the Canterbury-based side has been triumphant.
Like their ACT compatriots, the Crusaders are undoubtedly favourites. Maybe their last title might not, in reality, be called fourth-in-a-row, yet all challenges were met yet again in 2020. Beaten only once, their superiority was less so than in past seasons, as the frequency of local derby games meant the likes of the Blues, Highlanders, Chiefs, and the threatening Hurricanes, built to a breaking point on July 25. Besides that, Scott Robertson reigned supreme again.
Therefore preseason efforts will be doubled again by their northern and southern foes.
It's a month until this calendar begins to play a big part in the lives of #NZrugby fans
Well, actually most fans across the globe TBH. It complements the northern product, and will provide more choice – round 1 is on the same weekend of #SixNations rd 3.
A full plate of #footy pic.twitter.com/qlu738KyQx
— scott hornell (@scotthornell73) January 24, 2021
The Highlanders must be eager to gain some parity over their rivals, and the Farmlands Cup will again be a sounding board for how the side has responded since Tony Brown was elevated into the head coaching role. Aaron Mauger falling on his sword, the rule of Brown might be to bring more competition to the Southern Derby battles than in the last few seasons.
One side that must repair an extremely poor 2020 record, is the Chiefs franchise. They were emasculated, and did not claim a single win under Warren Gatland’s command. Hardly a glowing introduction to the competition, the leadership group for Super Rugby 2021 includes a new head coach. Clayton McMillan – as Gatland is probably going to be with the British and Irish Lions if the tour goes ahead. How that change improves his side’s performance is not known. Yet the Chiefsmana will ensure that 21′ cannot replicate the lows of the previous one.
Mind you, they will all want that. The Hurricanes must do so without TJ Perenara; the Blues without Beauden Barrett, as sabbatical breaks sees those team’s senior player’s determination tested.
Many new signings over both Super Rugby competitions
The exact nature of sport includes change. Much of this is designed to improve the cause for the side. Adding key players is prevalent. So while the market to include new talent is limited, the terms of contracts and loyalties can be fluid. So include all the Ins and Outs from both competitions would take an entire feature article.
Some highlights include Liam Squire returning to the Highlanders. That will be a big move for both franchise, and especially for the player. Fans hope he has addressed his mental health and is in a better place to push his side’s hopes. That makes up for the loss of Dillon Hunt to the Blues, and Jesse Parete. To cover that loss, Japanese flanker Kazuki Himeno joins Tony Brown, so the hope is the young International will blossom in his southern home.
At the ‘Canes, a straight swap of Julian Savea for Ben Lam is ‘like for like’. Lolagi Visinia adds to the firepower backline with Salesi Rayasi. Whereas adding Simon Hickey is not equal to the loss of Perenara. It puts some pressure on Jackson Garden Bachop. The hope will be that either does not get injured, otherwise cover is short on the bench [besides Jordie moving into 10].
For the Blues, the need to blend 2020 form and integrate new players will be the key. To have Patrick Tuipulotu and Findlay Christie hitting their targets from Round One. Gladly, the fans will be back. A good mix of homes games across the weekend and Friday night, will entertain the large numbers drawn to Eden Park in 2020.
The one team again that needs their imports to make a difference, is at the Chiefs. Bryn Gatland might now have the opportunity to direct a Super Rugby Aotearoa team, as Tiann Falcon exits. His contest with Kaleb Trask for the first-pick role will be the key performance indicator for the whole squad.
— Stuff.co.nz Sport (@NZStuffSport) December 2, 2020
Biggest signing in all of Super Rugby 2021 is yet to be formalized
Will he? Won’t he? Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson’s contract is up, and the contest for the signature of this leading coach is a global one. Rumour has it that he might wish to add International kudos to his CV yet, how can that occur in a Covid-controlled world? The chances are that he signs a short-term extension before the conditions allow him to migrate North….. sssh, you may have heard that here first.
Preseason games will help these side to define their playing XV. From Auckland to Alexandre in the South Island, the need for opposition is strong. That includes the innovation from the Hurricanes, to face both the Chiefs and Blues in a game of three halves. The ability to gauge the whole group’s form is limited but, with ‘unlimited subs’ in these trial games, more than 26 players can build important minutes, prior to the season starting on February 26.
Besides the indefinable form heading into Round Onr, Super Rugby 2021 should be first-rate. On both sides of the Tasman, the need to express yourself on the field is the same. Get out there. Show your stuff but most importantly, aim for the top of the table.
“Main photo credit”
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