While Super Rugby Aotearoa has been an unmitigated success, there have also been some undeniable adverse consequences of the high-intensity competition.
With top players being forced to front week in and week out due to what’s riding on every match, there’s been an exceptional number of long-term injuries to some of the stars of the game.
All Blacks Jack Goodhue, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Patrick Tuipulotu, Joe Moody, Liam Squire and Dalton Papalii will all miss a number of weeks of action with Goodhue and captain Cane unlikely to play any further role in this year’s rugby calendar.
The Aotearoa competition was always intended as a stop-gap measure once travel was inhibited thanks to the global pandemic but even as recently as last year, New Zealand Rugby were seemingly considering forging ahead with an Aotearoa-style competition that brought in two or three sides from Australia and the Pacific Islands.
That’s unlikely to eventuate now, with the five Australian Super Rugby teams set to join the Kiwi contingent, alongside two Pacific Island sides in next year’s competition.
That should come as some relief to New Zealand’s stars, who have expressed some discontent with the current competition due to its high ferocity.
All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith has previously noted that playing fellow Kiwis week in and week out is a brutal task for the players.
“I think if you look back over time, [the high attrition rate] is not a coincidence,” he said on the Devlin Radio Show. “Back-to-back derbies, it’s definitely got to have an impact.
“People don’t get how much harder you go against your best mate. It’s real. It’s not like saying we don’t respect the South Africans, Aussies, Jaguares, Japanese but when you play your mate every week, the collisions, the kilometres we run, it all adds up.”
Smith’s contemporaries have echoed similar sentiments in the past, with the likes of Ash Dixon and Brad Weber lamenting the loss of touring to South Africa – which was an important bonding experience for teams.
The likes of Richie Mo'unga and Damian McKenzie have started every match for their #SuperRugbyAotearoa sides while developing players have been left holding tackle bags on the sidelines. There are going to be consequences.
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) April 27, 2021
Smith has now re-affirmed his position on the competition, suggesting that he preferred the more traditional Super Rugby competitions which saw sides from Australia, South Africa and, more recently, Argentina and Japan involved.
In his latest edition of ‘Nugschats’, where Smith fields questions from fans on Twitter, Smith suggested that the “old format is better” due to the annual tours and the slightly more manageable intensity.
The old format is better. I missing touring it was the times you really got tight as a team. Plus not much fun bashing your mates up every week #Nugschats
— Aaron Smith (@Te_Nug) April 28, 2021
The Highlanders play their final game of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season – and possibly ever – this weekend against the Hurricanes. After the grand final between the Crusaders and Chiefs in two weeks’ time, the Trans-Tasman portion of the competition will kick off, which sees each New Zealand side play each Australian side over five weeks.
Smith has been named to start in the No 9 jersey for the Highlanders on Friday at Westpac Stadium, with the match kicking off at 7:05pm NZT.
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