As the 2020 Mitre 10 Cup draws to a close next weekend, attention in New Zealand is set to turn to the following week’s squad announcements for Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman in 2021.
Four of the country’s five franchises are expected to name their rosters for next season’s campaign on December 1, with the Crusaders reportedly confirmed to name their squad the following day.
With Super Rugby Aotearoa returning to our screens on February 26, all five sides will have a few months’ preparation scheduled over the Christmas and New Years period.
For many players, it will be their first taste of pre-season training as full-time Super Rugby players.
A few talented youngsters have already been handed their maiden Super Rugby contracts by Kiwi franchises in the weeks and months gone by.
Among those include 20-year-old Canterbury lock Sam Darry, who has turned the tide of Aucklanders migrating to Christchurch to ply their trade with the Crusaders by signing a three-year deal with the Blues.
The former New Zealand Schools representative and New Zealand U20 trialist’s contract was publicised in August, more than three months before the Hurricanes announced the arrival of Ruben Love and Brayden Iose.
Love’s eye-catching performances for Wellington means the teenage utility back will be one of the youngest players in next year’s competition, while Iose’s deal is good reward for a loose forward who has already played for the Hurricanes’ U18, U20, reserve and Brisbane 10s teams.
Those players are just three of the many exciting prospects who have been thrust into the limelight throughout this year’s Mitre 10 Cup, which begs the question as to who else is in line to be named in a Super Rugby squad for the first time in their career.
Of those who have starred in New Zealand’s premier provincial competition, it would be a surprise to not see Waikato halfback Xavier Roe in the mix.
The Hurricanes have bolstered their playing stocks leading into the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman campaign. #SuperRugbyAotearoa #SuperRugbyTransTasman #SuperRugby #Hurricanes https://t.co/fX8GSYXOcC
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The 21-year-old has enjoyed a breakout season with the Mooloos after having toiled away in the previous two campaigns with Taranaki.
Bursting onto the scene in the opening fortnight of the competition, Roe outplayed seasoned veterans TJ Perenara and Bryn Hall to score three tries and play a key role in setting up others across two matches against Wellington and North Harbour.
An ex-New Zealand U20 representative, whispers have circulated that Roe’s talents have been snapped up by the Chiefs, which would pit him against All Blacks pairing Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and Brad Weber for game time.
With Perenara on sabbatical in Japan in the first half of next season and Jamie Booth’s fitness questionable for the early early stages of the upcoming campaign due to a broken leg, Roe would also be a welcome addition at the Hurricanes.
However, if rumours of the Chiefs’ astute piece of business are to be believed, the 2016 Super Rugby champions may have to look elsewhere to look for cover at halfback.
Further down south, plenty of intrigue has surrounded the debut season of Tasman’s rising German star Anton Segner.
The Frankfurt-born 19-year-old loose forward has garnered plenty of attention for his ambition to become Germany’s first All Black, a dream of which he took a big step towards after making his first appearance for the Mako this year.
Segner, who played for New Zealand Schools in 2018 and 2019 after enrolling at Nelson College in what was initially expected to be a six-month exchange three years ago, has shown significant promise during his time in New Zealand.
That has been recognised by the Crusaders, who invited the former London Irish prospect for two weeks of pre-season training back in January.
It comes as little surprise, then, that Segner revealed the reigning four-time champions would be his preferred franchise to play for during an interview with James Marshall on the What A Lad podcast last month.
Whether there is room to include the Crusaders academy member in Scott Robertson’s squad remains to be seen, but securing Segner’s long-term future would be a quality investment by any Super Rugby team given the teenager’s potential.
Officials investigating the ultimately failed bid for New Zealand to host the Rugby Championship warned that giving the event the green light could be seen as a "perceived bias" for both rugby and men's sport, documents reveal. #TriNations https://t.co/65vxWA9TJt
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 20, 2020
For those in the market for wings, it must be hard to go past Auckland’s powerful AJ Lam, Otago try-scoring machine Freedom Vaha’akolo, or Taranaki speedster Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.
The Highlanders are at short-odds to snatch Vaha’akolo’s signature after the 23-year-old rookie trained with the squad throughout Super Rugby Aotearoa and dominated the local club scene after moving down from Auckland.
He continued that vein of form in the Mitre 10 Cup, scoring seven tries for Otago – the third-equal-most in the competition – to illustrate his impressive athleticism.
Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens has been similarly outstanding for Taranaki, with the rangy teenager going one better than Vaha’akolo to bag eight Mitre 10 Cup tries in 2020.
His two-year deal with the All Blacks Sevens and the lure of playing at next year’s Tokyo Olympics could stunt a rapid progression into Super Rugby, though.
If that deters a Super Rugby side from chasing Ratumaitavuki-Kneepken’s services for 2021, blockbusting Auckland product Lam would not be a bad alternative.
Standing at 1.92m and 105kg, the 22-year-old certainly has the physical attributes necessary to dominate at the next level, which would make him a big loss for the Blues if he was to be plucked from their catchment region by a rival team.
Players who haven’t featured at Super Rugby level before aren’t the only ones of interest ahead of the upcoming announcement.
Fans across New Zealand have expressed their bewilderment at the Highlanders’ decision to not renew the contract of electric Canterbury outside back Josh McKay, who has flourished in a disappointing campaign for the red-and-blacks.
Likewise, many have questioned how inspirational Southland skipper Tony Lamborn, who was with the Blues this year, hasn’t been retained by the Auckland franchise following his immense showing of heart, passion and commitment for the Stags.
Perhaps one of the other sides have made a late play for two of the standouts of the Mitre 10 Cup, but all will be revealed in early December.
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