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Super Rugby Winners and Losers

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Super Rugby squads: Winners and Losers from a bonanza #SuperSigningDay

All five New Zealand 2019 Super Rugby squads have been released today, with some surprises, some expected movements, and some unanswered questions. What were the best signings, big omissions, and most puzzling head-scratchers?

Where is Quinn Tupaea?

Many were expecting the boom Waikato rookie centre to find his way into a Super Rugby squad, only to be left puzzled when the last squad, the Blues, was announced. His hometown franchise Chiefs shaped as the likely destination with Charlie Ngatai moving on, but was not announced as a squad signing.

Whispers that Tupaea is too young for Super Rugby seem contradictory when Etene Nanai-Seturo, Leicester Faingaanuku and Folau Fakatava were all named in other squads. The other theory is Tupaea has been prevented from Super Rugby as he shapes as a key leader for the New Zealand under-20 campaign next year.

Either way, the situation doesn’t make sense. He is good enough and if he has the chance to earn a living playing Super Rugby, he should.

Highlanders New Boom Signing

Few outside of New Zealand will know of the Highlanders new 18-year-old halfback Folau Fakatava, but those that do know the Highlanders just landed some prospect. As Aaron Mauger described at the announcement, ‘he’s just got game’.

The Hastings Boys High-product won a National Championship last year and he would have represented New Zealand Schools if not for an injury in the national 1st XV semi-final.

He quickly made his way into the Hawkes Bay Mitre 10 team and the Highlanders have taken the gamble to lure him down south in hopes of finding their next long-term 9.

His talent is undeniably a big loss for the Hurricanes. TJ Perenara undoubtedly has a few seasons left, but it’s hard to make the argument that he moved south because his path is blocked – the Highlanders have Aaron Smith.

Fakatava’s upside is so high, he is worth a Super Rugby squad spot now, and the Highlanders have done just that.

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Aussies find their way into Kiwi squads

The announcement of discarded Rebels first-five Jack Debreczini in the Chiefs squad is win for the Northland 10.

The perception might be that he turned his back on Australia, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. When RugbyPass spoke with him earlier in the year, it was understood he took a two-year gig with Northland in the Mitre 10 Cup because there wasn’t anything else going in Australia. The Rebels had already turned away from him once before asking him back on a one-year deal in 2018.

With his career at a crossroads, moving to New Zealand was a risk and earning a spot in the Chiefs squad is the reward.

Debreczini will likely see game time and start along the season at some point. How much of the season Damian McKenzie will play in a World Cup year is unknown, plus the grueling New Zealand conference is about survival – there will be injuries.

Playing most of the year in the New Zealand conference is sure to elevate his game further. The Chiefs play the Rebels in the last round if anyone was wondering.

Another former Australian Super Rugby player, Sef Fa’agase, previously of the Queensland Reds, also landed a spot with the Highlanders. Other former Reds JJ Taulagi and Junior Laloifi played in this year’s Mitre 10 Cup but weren’t picked up but could still push their claims in the future.  

Crusaders powerhouse roster just keeps getting better

The back-to-back champions quietly added to their player stocks (although Scott Robertson was still hyped to reveal the new additions). The signings were players they have been developing for a while, adding some talented youth to the backs while retaining just about everyone except Crockzilla.

The experience of the roster is second to none, stacked with All Blacks so there weren’t many surprises to be had.

The surprise addition of young Leicester Faingaanuku completes the next stage of a project that both Tasman and the Crusaders have committed to – giving a schoolboy a professional contract.

Both the Makos and Crusaders have worked to keep their Nelson College star in the system, moving him at rapid speed towards a professional career, which now is here. Just one year out of the school, the powerful left-winger in the mould of Julian Savea is ready to embark on full-time rugby life of Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup.

This year must also be time for Will Jordan to make his long-awaited Super Rugby debut. After two standout seasons with the Makos, we should see the speedster at some point. Jordan made the squad last year but was unable to get on the field.  

Hurricanes’ new Beauden Insurance

The Hurricanes added ex-Highlanders first five-eighth/fullback Fletcher Smith in a valuable signing that will provide backup cover for the All Blacks 10 and positional depth at 15.

Smith had an impressive season with Waikato this year, helping them earn promotion to the Premiership. Many had him linked to the Chiefs after making the provincial move from Otago to the Waikato.

His signing with the Canes may have opened the door for Debreczini, but he now has an opportunity for Smith to compete with Jackson Garden-Bachop.

There are suggestions Beauden Barrett is due for a post-World Cup 2020 Japan sabbatical, meaning Smith or Garden-Bachop could get a full season of Super Rugby in his absence.

Full circle for Salesi Rayasi

New Zealand Sevens and Auckland’s breakout winger Salesi Rayasi completed a full circle journey by signing with the Hurricanes.

The St Pats Silverstream-product grew up in Wellington, before having a stint with Canterbury. After that didn’t work out, he gave up the game altogether in pursuit of a basketball career. A second chance with Auckland has paid off, with Rayasi now joining his hometown franchise Hurricanes and returning home.  

After the departure of Julian Savea, Rayasi fills his vacant squad spot and will have to compete with Ben Lam for the left wing job.

Will the Blues’ blues continue? 

The Blues big announcements had already been made public, with the return of All Black midfielder Ma’a Nonu widely known. Although, not everyone seemed to realise.

The Blues added some names from within their regional playing pool, including Mitre 10 Cup-winning first five Harry Plummer to the full-time roster.

The Blues look to have decent depth across most positions but their biggest acquisitions are going to be the new coaching staff, where Leon MacDonald and Tom Coventry have been appointed as assistants.

With Auckland’s provincial resurgence occurring under the guidance of former Wellingtonians Alama Ieremia and Filo Tiatia, the culture change might sweep its way through the Blues as well with many players involved with both teams. Don’t be surprised to see a far more competitive outfit in the New Zealand conference next year.

A further thought, could Ma’a Nonu play for the All Blacks at next year’s World Cup? It hasn’t been widely discussed, but he is now eligible due to being back in New Zealand. We all know what happened with Stephen Donald in 2011.

With both Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams having troubles staying healthy in recent years, what would it take for the 36-year-old to don black again? If his form is good at Super Rugby level, why not?

In other news: 

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Super Rugby squads: Winners and Losers from a bonanza #SuperSigningDay