In the lead-up to Super Rugby Aotearo’s kick-off, the discourse seemed to be that the tournament was going to be intensely physical. NZ derbies always leave sore bodies in their wake, and players didn’t hold back when quizzed on how tough the new competition was going to be.

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“We certainly get some tough battles out of those New Zealand derbies,” returning Chief Aaron Cruden said in the lead-up to the competition.

“The intensity takes it up another level and the bodies are always sore afterwards – but you can deal with the sore body if you’re able to get the win, I think. That’s always the goal.”

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Warren Gatland joins Jim Hamilton to discuss his new book, Pride and Passion.

Bryn Gatland, who came on against the Chiefs in round one of Super Rugby Aotearoa to kick a match-winning drop-goal, had similar sentiments.

“Eight New Zealand teams in a row is going to take a toll, especially, I think, on the forwards. It’s going to be pretty physical, pretty brutal, and pretty fast. There’s probably going to need to be some plan around rotations and minutes and giving some guys some opportunities.”

Despite the physicality of the contests, however, players that haven’t been required to turn out for their Super Rugby sides this weekend are turning out in droves for their clubs.

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With the Hurricanes having the bye this week, the likes of Ardie Savea, Alex Fidow, Billy Proctor and Devan Flanders – who all clocked up minutes in the first two weeks of Super Rugby Aotearoa – will play club rugby instead, despite potentially having heavy loads in the coming

Across the country, men who’ve had limited minutes over the first two weekends of fixtures will don their club colours as the grassroots game gets underway.

The Blues’ Jonathan Ruru and Ezekiel Lindenmuth will feature for University and Ardmore Marist, respectively, while Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Alex Nankivell are some of the Chiefs to put their hands up for club duty.

Further south, Highlander Vilimoni Korori will play for Alhambra Union in the Dunedin club competition. Koroi started in his franchise’s opening win over the Chiefs but had the bye last weekend and hasn’t been called upon to play against the Blues in Auckland this weekend.

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While there’s no doubt that playing back-to-back-to-back derbies is taking its toll, the fact that there’s been so little rugby for so long due to COVID-19 means players are champing at the bit to play any football – even if there’s a chance they’ll have plenty on their plates in the coming weeks.

Of course, most of the men who are getting involved in club rugby this weekend are the players who’ve spent more time on the training pitches with their Super Rugby teams and less time on the pitch. Savea, in particular, wasn’t able to take the field for the Hurricanes during the original Super season due to injury so has clocked up just one and a bit games this year. You imagine that any opportunity the All Blacks loose forward gets to play will welcomed with open arms.

Former All Black Ben Smith is also expected to turn out for the Green Island club in Dunedin after returning home from France before he heads to Japan.

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