Former Blues hooker James Parsons believes there is plenty more at stake than what most onlookers realise when Super Rugby Trans-Tasman kicks-off next week.
The five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises will go head-to-head with their Australian counterparts for the first time in over a year little more than a month after a quarantine-free travel bubble was announced between the two countries.
Since the confirmation that the cross-border competition will go ahead as planned, many have tipped the Kiwi teams, who dominated Super Rugby prior to its dissolution last year, as favourites to clinch the inaugural Trans-Tasman title.
The New Zealand sides have also been exposed to some immense physicality and brutality throughout the past two seasons of Super Rugby Aotearoa, leading some to suggest they may use the upcoming competition to rest their established players and blood some youngsters.
However, speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Parsons blew those assertions out of the water, claiming that all the clubs involved will select their best available teams each week.
The two-test All Black said that any chance for experimentation should have used in pre-season, and that the five Kiwi teams and five Australian sides will be out for success in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
“I think it’s best team will get selected. I don’t think it’s young guys, old guys,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“It’ll be the best team that’s performing, the players that are giving their best throughout the weeks, giving themselves the best opportunity to perform on the weekend, will get selected.
“I don’t think coaches ever would look at it as giving opportunities. That’s pre-season time. I think there’s just too much at stake for all five clubs to perform and set the tone.”
The 34-year-old pointed to the sacking of Waratahs coach Rob Penney and Rebels boss Dave Wessels in recent weeks as examples of what can happen if teams don’t meet their expectations.
He said that will be no different for the new competition, meaning the best available sides will be picked as all 10 teams chase the first-ever Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title.
“We’ve just spoken about two coaches losing their jobs. Livelihoods are at stake. We’re in a performance-based business. If you went in and said, ‘Oh, you know, I was just trialling a few things,’ that’s probably not going to cut it.
“Players will start asking questions. They’ll be like, ‘I’m doing everything right, why am I not getting a go?’ ‘Oh, we just want to give a young guy a go’ isn’t going to cut it either.
“This is at the highest level, so I think the best players will get picked, and the beauty of it is the coaches will just be straight up and say, ‘This is the reason why you’re not getting picked, these are the areas you’ve got to work on. Show me your work on them and you’ll get your opportunity.’”
One player who may have stated his case to be included throughout the Trans-Tasman competition is Blues fullback Zarn Sullivan, who impressed in his debut for the franchise against the Chiefs last week.
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Bagging a try and a try assist, the 20-year-old looked adept in the No. 15 jersey as his side ran out 39-19 victors over the Hamilton-based franchise at Eden Park in Auckland.
Handed his opportunity after incumbent playmaker Stephen Perofeta missed his first match of the season, Parsons suggested he saw enough from the promising youngster to indicate he could be a regular for the Blues against the Australian sides.
“The one thing I liked about Zarn, I was at that game and just watching him in the backfield, he was always looking for that kick space. He’s got a clear idea of balance of attack and not just running back and getting trapped,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
“I think he’ll admit his kicks weren’t always as perfect as he’d like, but he was constantly looking to put that ball in front of his forwards, which is great, and he’s got that first-five game balance.
“He’s tall, he’s a big body, he’s good in the air, he’s got courage, he can really win those collisions. He’s selfless, I think we saw that with his pass [to assist AJ Lam’s first try].
“He could have fallen over the tryline but he went for the option for giving it to AJ Lam to score because it’s guaranteed rather than chancing his arm and getting tackled, so he ticks all the right boxes as a team man.
“He’s got the skill set, he’s got the build, he’s got the maturity, but on the other side, we’ve got a guy that has worked his way back through injury, he’s performed really well this year as well, Stephey P, so it creates competition, which is great during the week.
“Zarn did himself all the favours, performed really well, and now it’s up to the coaches to make a selection, but that puts the pressure on those two guys to perform during the week so that that selection issue becomes a tough one.”
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