Super Rugby players aren’t meant to spend April and May on the sidelines, so having been forced to do so by Covid-19, there’s little wonder a return to the grass is being eagerly anticipated.

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New Zealand Rugby this week unveiled Super Rugby Aotearoa, a ten-week round-robin competition with all five sides playing each other home and away.

“It’s going to be a spectacle, I reckon,” said Hurricanes hooker Ricky Riccitelli.

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Scott Sio fronts the media

“Everyone’s going to be so keen and that amped and fired up to get back out on the footy field.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about it and a lot of waiting around not knowing what’s happening.

“By the time it comes around to that first kick-off – jeepers – I don’t know if I’d want to be the one running back on the first kick-off!”

The squads will reassemble next week and prepare for the first of eight gruelling derbies, starting with the Highlanders hosting the Chiefs in Dunedin on Saturday June 13. The Hurricanes will meet the Blues in Auckland the next day while the defending champion Crusaders have been handed the competition’s first bye.

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A return to contact training is seen as crucial to prepare the players for the rigours of such high-intensity action.

“With eight super rugby derbies for each team, it’s pretty much the hardest rugby below international level you can get,” said Riccitelli.

“It’s getting the bodies ready so it’s safe for everyone. It’ll just be building into it and getting used to tackling again and being knocked around a little bit. It’s more like damage control, so you don’t go from zero to one-hundred straight away.

“Along with the big contacts, it’s a much faster brand of footy that we love to play in New Zealand. There are bodies going everywhere and you need faster reaction times.

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“But once you’re out there, you’re pretty much playing and don’t actually notice the (increased) level of it.”

The nuggety Taranaki rake spent the first month of lockdown at home with his mum in New Plymouth before returning to the capital in Alert Level Three.

“As weird as it sounds, sometimes a break can be a good thing,” he said.

“You can refresh and have a really good think about things and what you want to get out of your trainings and your footy.

“But speaking to the boys, we’re just all so amped and ready to get back into work and get amongst each other and around each other’s company. I’ve missed the lads and the environment so it’ll be so awesome to go back into battle with them on the weekends again and put some good performances out there.”

The only thing missing will be the crowds with the competition to be played behind closed doors as part of the protocols around mass gatherings.

“It’ll definitely be different but the boys are so keen to get back into it, I don’t think it’ll be a big factor,” said Riccitelli.

“Obviously not having fans in the stadium is not ideal, but we’re just grateful to be back playing some footy and doing what we love doing.”

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