Super Rugby Aotearoa team-by-team


(Reuters) - Brief profiles of the five teams in New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, which kicks off on Friday:

CANTERBURY CRUSADERS (Christchurch)

Coach: Scott Robertson (fifth year)

Captain: Scott Barrett

Last year: Champions (W-6, D-1, L-1)

The 10-times Super Rugby champions will again be the team to beat after adding the inaugural Aotearoa title to their impressive haul last season.

The production line of talent that seems to unearth a new superstar every year looks to be in good working order, while grizzled veterans like Codie Taylor and Sam Whitelock ensure a core of stability.

Flyhalf Richie Mo'unga will get the best out of a backline rich with attacking talent and the likes of Jack Goodhue, Sevu Reece and George Bridge will ensure that opposition defences will not be able to relax for a second.

AUCKLAND BLUES (Auckland)

Coach: Leon MacDonald (third year)

Captain: Patrick Tuipulotu

Last year: Second (W-5, D-1, L-2)

The Blues have rarely produced team performances worthy of the individual talent in their ranks over the last decade and so last year's second-place finish in Super Rugby Aotearoa was seen as progress.

Twice World player of the Year Beauden Barrett managed only seven appearances for the Blues after moving north from the Hurricanes and will be absent this season on sabbatical in Japan.

MacDonald will still have an array of talent to choose from and any side with a quality pack led by Tuipulotu with backline talent featuring the likes of Rieko Ioane and Caleb Clarke should be in contention at the business end of the competition.

WELLINGTON HURRICANES (Wellington)

Coach: Jason Holland (second year)

Captain: Ardie Savea

Last year: Third (W-5, L-3)

Losing their first two matches of the first season of Super Rugby Aotearoa probably cost the 'Canes a run at the title but they will fancy their chances this year with a largely settled squad.

Scrumhalf TJ Perenara's sabbatical in Japan, along with the departure of flyhalf Beauden Barrett, last year means the Hurricanes will be lacking a bit in experience in the halfbacks.

New captain Ardie Savea will lead from the front in the pack with hooker Dane Coles, however, while fullback Jordie Barrett and centre Ngani Laumape are also proven performers at the top level.

OTAGO HIGHLANDERS (Dunedin)

Coach: Tony Brown (First year)

Captains: Ash Dixon and Aaron Smith

Last year: Fourth (W-3, L-5)

There will be much excitement at Tony Brown's second coming as head coach after Aaron Mauger's three-year tenure was brought to an end after last season.

An experienced pack should lay a solid foundation to allow a backline bursting with young talent, and marshalled by All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith, to do their work.

Josh Ioane and Mitch Hunt will vie for the flyhalf role, while former All Blacks flyer Nehe Milner-Skudder will look to revive his career in Dunedin after some bad luck with injury.

WAIKATO CHIEFS (Hamilton)

Coach: Clayton McMillan (Interim)

Captains: Sam Cane and Brad Weber

Last year: Fifth (W-0, L-8)

Coach Warren Gatland's return home to Hamilton last season started well with four wins from six matches in the international Super Rugby competition before the global health crisis brought it to a shuddering halt.

After rugby resumed in New Zealand in July, the Chiefs failed to win a single match in the inaugural domestic competition and will start the new season on a nine-match losing streak.

With Gatland away on British and Irish Lions duty, McMillan gets his chance to cut his teeth as a head coach and will be looking to All Blacks Sam Cane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Brad Weber, Damian McKenzie and Tupou Vaai to spark a revival.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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