Anyone can contribute to The Roar and have their work featured alongside some of Australia’s most prominent sports journalists.
|M. M. Tu'u||39|
Super Rugby Aotearoa makes its debut with a long-awaited match-up between the Highlanders and Chiefs. Join The Roar for live scores and commentary from 5:05pm (AEST).
It’s been the best part of three months since the last game of professional rugby was played, and boy is it nice to have it back. Even better, New Zealand’s superb work in containing and then eliminating COVID-19 from their shores means this game will be played in front of a packed Dunedin crowd at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
As for the match itself, getting a grasp on where these two sides are at involves plenty of guesswork. No one knows just how much the hiatus has affected everyone, although it’s fair to assume both line-ups are going to be at least a little rusty for a week or two.
Of the two teams, the break should have benefitted the Highlanders more. While the Chiefs were one of the more dangerous sides in the 15-team Super Rugby competition, having knocked off the Crusaders early in the year, their opponents today struggled, losing more matches than any of their New Zealand counterparts.
Coach Aaron Mauger is then justified in making a few changes for the season restart, most notably moving Josh Ioane one position closer to the action at flyhalf and shifting Mitch Hunt from no.10 to fullback. Ioane didn’t find his best form at inside centre earlier this year, but the skill which saw him earn his first All Blacks cap last year hasn’t gone anywhere – the youngster is certainly capable of running this side from first-five.
He’ll get excellent service from star halfback Aaron Smith all game, problem is there’s not a massive amount of talent outside him in this line-up – particularly compared to a Chiefs outfit which boasts Damien McKenzie, Brad Weber and Anton Lienert-Brown, and can afford the luxury of bringing Aaron Cruden off the bench.
Cruden’s spot on the bench is a fascinating one. The former All Blacks playmaker is fully fit, meaning it’s a tactical decision from coach Warren Gatland to use him as a finisher behind Kaleb Trask. Cruden played a similar role in Round 1 of the full Super Rugby season, when he sparked a second-half comeback to guide the Chiefs over the Blues.
Gatland doesn’t have club and country captain Sam Cane available today. He’s out with back soreness, so Lachlan Boshier – who had an outstanding start to the year – will play his 50th game for the club at openside flanker with Luke Jacobsen at blindside and Pita Gus Sowakula at no.8. All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala is a handy addition to the starting pack, too.
Two debutants have been named to start today: Sam Gilbert on the wing for the Highlanders and Tupou Vaa’i at lock for the Chiefs. Another, Vilimoni Koroi, will be sitting on the Highlanders bench, but the Dunedin side will have to wait a few more weeks to see new signing Nehe Milner-Skudder take the field, with the former All Black recovering from yet another shoulder injury.
Hard to go past the Chiefs in this one. They were the far better of the two sides in the few rounds of Super Rugby that were played prior to coronavirus hitting, have a more dangerous backline and a little more grunt up front.
Josh Ioane into flyhalf is a good move, and the home crowd will give the Highlanders a boost, but the visitors should prove too strong.
Chiefs by 12
Kick-off: 5:05pm (AEST)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium
TV (Australia): Fox Sports
Live stream (Australia): Kayo Sports, Foxtel
1. Ayden Johnstone 2. Ash Dixon (c) 3. Siate Tokolahi 4. Paripari Parkinson 5. Josh Dickson 6. Shannon Frizell 7. Dillon Hunt 8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u 9. Aaron Smith 10. Josh Ioane 11. Jona Nareki 12. Patelesio Tomkinson 13. Rob Thompson 14. Sam Gilbert 15. Mitch Hunt
Bench: 16. Liam Coltman 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown 18. Jeff Thwaites 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit 20. Teariki Ben-Nicholas 21. Kayne Hammington 22. Teihorangi Walden 23. Vilimoni Koroi
1. Aidan Ross 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho 3. Nepo Laulala 4. Mitchell Brown 5. Tupou Vaa’i 6. Luke Jacobson 7. Lachlan Boshier 8. Pita Gus Sowakula 9. Brad Weber (c) 10. Kaleb Trask 11. Sean Wainui 12. Anton Lienert-Brown 13. Quinn Tupaea 14. Shaun Stevenson 15. Damian McKenzie
Bench: 16. Bradley Slater 17. Ryan Coxon 18. Ross Geldenhuys 19. Naitoa Ah Kuoi 20. Dylan Nel 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi 22. Aaron Cruden 23. Etene Nanai-Seturo