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Super Rugby: Season Preview, initial thoughts.

A look ahead to the 2019 Campaign

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Entertainment central on the Chiefs wings

The Chiefs have two absolutely box-office wingers in their squad for this year’s Super season; Japanese international Ataata Moeakiola  and Etene Nanai-Seturo, fresh off the World Sevens circuit.

Moeakiola burst onto the scene in 2016 at the World Rugby U20s, scoring a hat-trick within 30 minutes against South Africa. The Tongan-born wing performed to the point that he was being compared to Jonah Lomu. The 23 year old is quite a physical specimen; he stands 185cm and weighs in at 110kg. This will be Moeakiola’s debut in Super Rugby; he was on the books at the Sunwolves since 2017, but university rugby for Tokai took priority. It will be fascinating to see how the big man adapts to top level rugby, given that it is nearly three years since we saw him at U20 level.


If Ataata Moeakiola is Jonah Lomu, then Etene Nanai-Seturo is Christian Cullen. The 19 year old from Auckland is a much smaller operator than his Japanese compatriot, coming in at just under 90kg and six foot. He is similar in ways to Nehe Milner-Skudder when he first broke through, he is one hell of a stepper, and is one of those players that makes things happen, there is a sense of anticipation when he gets hands on the ball, as those who watched him play for Counties Manukau in this years Mitre 10 Cup are well aware. He showcased his try-scoring ability last weekend, with two tries, simple finishes as they were


Nanai-Seturo was the subject of legal battle when he was younger; he was contracted by the New Zealand Warriors as a 15 year-old, but after he had a change of heart, an agreement was reached between New Zealand Rugby and the Warriors to allow him to join New Zealand Sevens.

Break up with Nick Phipps, I’m Bored

The Rugby Championship was a tough one for Australia, and in particular the much-maligned Waratahs out-half Bernard Foley. Undroppable for Cheika in the past, Foley lost his spot to Kurtley Beale for a couple games. This weekend sees two potential Wallaby half-back pairings face off; Christian Leali’ifano and Joe Powell start for the Brumbies, opposite Will Genia and Quade Cooper for the Melbourne Rebels.

It’s been a difficult couple of seasons for Quade Cooper; he spent time playing for Souths rugby and Brisbane in the NRC after being told he was not part of Brad Thorn’s plans for the Reds. An attempt to make it into the Australian Sevens squad in 2016 didn’t pan out, and two year contract with Toulon ended prematurely.

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Cooper’s contract with the Rebels is a lifeline, and his World Cup hopes are greatly benefitted by the fact that he’ll be playing every week opposite Cheika’s first choice scrum-half Will Genia. Half-backs are the source of a lot of Australia’s difficulties. Cheika’s policy of a 6/2 split on the bench means that there is almost never specialist out-half cover on the bench for Australia, Kurtley Beale is the backup. Beale has a lot of good qualities, but he is not a Test level out-half. Quade looked good in Rebels colours last weekend, and if he can get into a good run, it would be very hard to ignore him for a spot in the World Cup

The continued selection of Nick Phipps is also not good for Australia, considering he does not even start for the Waratahs regularly (Jake Gordon does). Joe Powell and Jake Gordon are both young, talented scrum-halves and the sooner Michael Cheika realises that he needs a scrum-half and out-half on the bench, and that he needs to delete Nick Phipps’ number off his phone, the better Australia will be come Japan this Autumn.

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Guess who’s back?

Nonu is back folks. Turning 37 this summer, the legendary All Black started last weekend in the Blues midfield outside TJ Faiane. Nonu didn’t look the quickest, understandably, but he was making big hits and carried hard. Many people expected Nonu to retire after he left Toulon for family reasons but he will line out for the Blues this season in what his third stint in Auckland, after the 2012 and 2014 seasons. Nonu will be part of what is quite a tasty backline for the Blues this year; he will form a seriously destructive partnership with Sonny Bill Williams, and will have some lightning pace outside him, with likes of Melani Nanai and Rieko Ioane.

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Nonu is hopeful of making it to the World Cup. He has said that he learned how to take better care of his body during his three years in France, is a goal for him during this Super Rugby season. He’ll have his work cut out for him however, with the likes of Sonny Bill, Ngani Laumape, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Anton Lienert-Brown all in contention for a spot.

Will anyone stop the Crusaders?

In the eyes of many, the Crusaders are the best club team in world rugby. A club world cup like football has is something every rugby fan would love to see, the men from Canterbury lining out against Dublin’s finest, or a reenactment of the ancient battles from which the teams get their names, the Saracens taking a stand against the Crusaders.

Crusaders have been dominating Super Rugby for the last two seasons, going for the three in a row this year. It has been the Lions that have come closest, they were beaten finalists in 2017 and 2018. It is hard to see anyone beating the Crusaders to the title this year. Depth wise, they have the most impressive squad in Super Rugby. An all international pack, combined with some of the most exciting young backs coming through in New Zealand, Crusaders will be great to watch this year.

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Most exciting to see are full-back Will Jordan, and halfback Ere Enari. Jordan has long been earmarked for stardom and coach Scott Robertson is excited to see him make his Super Rugby debut, telling Stuff.co.nz

“”Obviously a prodigious talent. You could see in the pre-season, his ability to beat players and take opportunities, he’s definitely got an eye for a gap and a bit of extra speed. He’s a good local boy, he always dreamed of being a Crusader, so it’s a dream for him this weekend.”

Ere Enari has had a torrid time with injuries over the past couple of years, suffering three leg breaks in the space of two years. Like Jordan, he is a star in waiting, who has had to bide his time before making it to Super Rugby, if he can string a good run of games together, it won;t be long before we see him wearing black.

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Also worth a watch are Manasa Mataele and George Bridge, both wingers, and Braydon Ennor in the midfield. Ennor in particular looks like a serious player; searing pace, and along with a highly intelligent rugby brain. It will be interesting to see if Richie Mo’unga can build on the calls for him to be given the All Black first five jersey, after his impressive Rugby Championship appearances, and his combining with Beaudy Barrett at full-back.

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Premiership

Saracens Set to Land South African Starlet

Saracens have had their struggles of late but it appears as though despite everything they remain active in the transfer market and are preparing to sign one of South Africa’s brightest stars

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Saracens are in advanced talks with young South African forward Cobus Wiese from the Stormers it has been revealed and his signing could benefit England too.

With the South African side struggling with cash at the moment, losing a host of their star players in recent times, the English Premiership giants are preparing to swoop in for another, with it believed that the utility forward to sign a five-year contract. 

At 22, the forward has been a regular for both the Stormers and Western Province over the past two years and if he does put pen to paper on the deal it would see him become available for England during his career. 

The London-based side have had a rough few days being handed a £5.3 million fine and being deducted 35 points in the Premiership for a breach of salary cap rules, but while that is being appealed, the club seem likely to continue their transfer business as usual. 

While for Saracens it would be a massive coup to sign Wiese, for the Stormers it would be a huge loss as they have already lost World Cup winners Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende, as well as other players such as Dan Kriel, Michael Kumbirai, Corne Fourie and EW Viljoen among others due to the current crisis at the franchise. 

The Stormers have been struggling through their pre-season so far as a host of their players are on loan abroad and they await the returns of some of their World Cup stars. 

They should be boosted by the returns of captain Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff, Herschel Jantjies, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe and recent World Player of the Year winner Pieter-Steph du Toit, who are all set to come back to the franchise come mid-December. 

However, the loss of another player and a rising star could not only be a blow for the club but for the Springboks in the future.

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Super Rugby

Chiefs Not Concerned by Cruden’s Injury History

The Chiefs are ready to welcome back former All Blacks out-half Aaron Cruden to the franchise and have reiterated that they are not worried by his recent injury catalogue

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Super Rugby outfit the Chiefs are not worried about returning star Aaron Cruden’s recent injury history according to CEO Michael Collins.

The 30-year-old fly-half is set to return to the Hamilton-based franchise on a one-year deal, having previously spent six seasons with them and winning two titles before a move to French giants Montpellier. 

However, since his move to the Top 14 side the former All Black has picked up a number of injuries, including a calf problem that has caused him to miss large amounts of playing time, but Collins insists that the club are certain he will move to them and remain fit throughout. 

“We’ve spoken to Aaron and watched some of his games, and a couple of the injuries he did suffer in France were contact injuries and we always knew he was going to come right. the driver for us was he has such a history with the Chiefs, he’s a world-class first five-eighth, we’ve got some really good young backs coming through and we thought his recruitment would serve two purposes – to help drive the team round the field, and also to be an older voice and someone for those younger players to learn off. know that he’s going to come in fit and healthy, so we thought it’d be better to get his family settled, focus on that, then join the team after the Christmas break,” he said while speaking to Stuff. 

Cruden, who won 50 international caps for New Zealand before his switch to Europe, including appearances against the British and Irish Lions, will hope to put his own injury issues aside when he returns in January as his side look to start their campaign on a positive note. 

The Chiefs and Cruden kick-off their Super Rugby campaign on January 31st 2020 when they take on the Blues at Eden Park and Collins will be hoping his playmaker will be ready. 

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Rugby Championship

SANZAAR to Consider Japan’s Rugby Championship Inclusion

Following their hugely impressive Rugby World Cup performances from Japan SANZAAR are set to not only consider the team’s inclusion in the Rugby Championship but are also to reconsider the Sunwolves future according to reports

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Japanese rugby franchise the Sunwolves could be set for a return to Super Rugby as well as the national side having a chance to compete in the Rugby Championship according to a report from Newshub.

Following Japan’s brilliant World Cup campaign where they reached the last eight of the competition for the first time in their history, SANZAAR are apparently set to consider bringing the country into the Rugby Championship to help them develop their game. 

The report claims that SANZAAR are set to meet in Tokyo on Friday where they will also discuss the possibility of reintroducing the Sunwolves to Super Rugby. 

Speaking to Newshub, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper is hoping that Japan will be able to compete at the highest level and rues the fact that the Nations Championship proposal was shut down. 

“Certainly if I was in their shoes I’d be very keen to have Japan in my competition sooner rather than later. That’s entirely their call. We proposed a nations championship that had Japan very much playing at the top table and maybe they’ll see it that way for their own particular championship” he said. 

The inclusion of the Sunwolves would be huge for Japan after the franchise failed to agree a new contract with SANZAAR to extend their time in the competition where they have only won eight of 62 games since 2016. 

However, considering the success of the national side this tournament it seems only fair that they should be given a chance to continue their development to the top tier and that will only happen if their players are playing against the best week in week out. 

The Japanese were unfortunate to go down 26-3 to the Springboks on Saturday in the quarter-finals, but following their incredible performances where they played a fast and exciting style of rugby, earning many fans worldwide, people will hope that this is only the beginning of their rugby story.

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