Straight back to work: Super Rugby Trans-Tasman form must continue

Super Rugby Trans-Tasman form must continue

By direct comparison between the Australian and New Zealand franchises, rugby fans can find where Super Rugby Trans-Tasman form has been established.

Each competition crowned their own separate Super Rugby champions Saturday night; the second year that local teams claimed each nation’s domestic trophies. Now, the two opposing forces collide in a cross-border format that will reintroduce the once regular International trips back and forth over the Tasman.

A new element in a tormented 12 month period that’s seen Super Rugby shattered, and needing to rebuild. That begins this week and is continued with a yet to be announced 2022 format and team figures. Yet one thing hadn’t changed in all that time…. who reigns supreme.

In New Zealand, the same theme has continued (as in 2020). The Crusaders ‘stole the Thunder’ from season-reviving challengers, the Chiefs. And even while two losses blemished the record of head coach Scott Robertson, they still had the resolve to play through a 13-on-15 period before adding a fifth consecutive championship match victory.

Contrastingly in Australia, a fresh champion reigned supreme. That victory might have come at the death, yet it was underpinned by form for the entire season where one team has been so dominant. So a win for the Queensland Reds seemed a fair outcome.

Their respective challenge goes from five familiar opponents to now being fresh new competition.

Straight back up on your feet; carry on Super Rugby Trans-Tasman form

Those same groups will now be contesting the upcoming competition against all overseas franchises. While the above two team names have each been able to reach peak performance, the instant demands of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman require similar form from the very first round for all. That means everyone, including the most successful sides, relies on their stars as much now, as they did in the own territories.

For those reasons, expect the teams that can instantly get the most from their key players; as well as the full support from their entire squad, to feature in the ‘winner takes all’ Trans-Tasman cup final scheduled for June 19.

One question on every rugby observer’s mind though is, which side has it in them to make changes and get straight back to work?

Hard to answer, and in amongst all the previews that have been expressed thus far, there are a good number of teams that are in positions to put pressure on the two Championship winners. How they begin and continue Super Rugby Trans-Tasman form over the full five rounds is all in their own hands.

No rest breaks between the two Competitions

What is obvious though, is that teams and individuals had no time to rest. Especially true for the two champion sides. Although, consider that the Crusaders enjoyed a final round bye, as did the Reds – who sat out a Preliminary final weekend’s rest. Yet for their challengers, that adds to their burden.

The Chiefs and the ACT Brumbies may find this transition hardest. And even while Clayton McMillan’s decision to rest many players in the week proceeding the Super Rugby Aotearoa final, the Waikato team have a tough ask ahead. Consider the colossal efforts needed to make, and then to contest the New Zealand final. It was a huge improvement on 2020 however, it could seem to get even harder to win the Trans-Tasman trophy.

Their fans will be hoping that a first-round trip to Perth might bear some fruit. The long haul transit so soon after a tough final is going to be hard on bodies, and they are the only Kiwi team who are required to visit Australia on three occasions.

That Saturday night clash is going to be defining for the Chiefs but in consideration for the short turnaround, the Reds have decided to rest several players when they head across to Dunedin to open the Trans-Tasman campaign. How important will that be? Will it work well, or upset their previous form? Might it actually bolster the host’s intentions of upsetting the Champs who are rated below every New Zealand team [in terms of odds]. A possible motivating factor alone for the Queensland side you might also wonder.

To knock off the Super AU champions, it will take the very best of the Highlanders, who have been rocked by personnel changes this week. Tony Brown has abandoned his domestic duties for Japan International ones, and All Black Shannon Frizell faces an investigation that denied him lacing up his big boots Friday.

So that unliked term ‘rest and rotation’ is being coined by many leaders including Brad Thorn. Five weeks straight is hard to balance for all coaching staff and makes the judgment of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman form harder to register in 2021. Not only because of on-field but also, off-field change.

Format changes give weight to Domestic differences

‘We use the Adidas ball, you use the Gilbert. We’ll both use some of the law variations but, not all of yours and not all of ours!’. These are the best intentions that SANZAAR has needed to utilize, with the varied differences between Aotearoa and Australian competitions having to be integrated. They could not all be incorporated, so a balance was required.

Goal-line drop-outs and replacements for red-carded players after 20 minutes are the two law innovations carried over from Super Rugby AU and Aotearoa.

Teams will also share the points for tied matches during the round-robin stage but the Final will be determined by either: two 10-minute halves of extra-time; one further sudden death extra-time period of 10 minutes; penalty kicking competition.

And speaking about kicking:

The varied ball use is a fresh integration policy that will have placekickers and lineout throwers practicing with both a Gilbert [AUS] and an Adidas [NZ] ball. Quite the unique arrangement as the governing body has previously only used the Gilbert ball for Internationals and for the previous Super Rugby conference system. A compromise to the New Zealand corporate sponsors, as the business of designing a fresh new competition, provides intrigue for administrators, as much as it will for players and coaches.

Will it be a positive shift? Some might say those aspects are secondary to scheduling. The Chiefs and Western Force both have the most miles to travel, so expect some feedback from those organizations. Yet the benefit for both sides of the Tasman is definite. Varied competition improves everyone involved – if you only play the same opposition, it will not bring the same benefits in the overall picture.

By the time Friday night plays out, five games each week is a vast improvement of two pairs of games. And to add the cherry on top, matches will be played not only in major cities but towns within regions of both New Zealand and Australia. A win-win for every stakeholder for sure.


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