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Top young talent picks at each Super Rugby Aotearoa side

By Alex Shaw
Blues full-back Zarn Sullivan in action for the New Zealand U20s. (Getty Images)

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There are few things as exciting in rugby as the beginning of the Super Rugby season in New Zealand, and with Super Rugby Aotearoa set to kick off this week and streamed exclusively in the UK, Ireland, Europe, Middle East and Asia on RugbyPass, we decided to take a look at five youngsters worth a watch over the coming months.


Few clubs integrate their exciting young talents as seamlessly into high-level senior rugby as the franchises in New Zealand, with every new season is typically good for at least four or five genuine breakout star contributors across the two islands, and the 2021 campaign looks like it will be no different.

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Super Rugby 2021 Preview | The Breakdown | Ep1
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Super Rugby 2021 Preview | The Breakdown | Ep1

From all-court props with frightening physical potential to elusive and electrifying outside backs, take a look below at some of the new names – at Super Rugby level at the least – who could shine in the coming weeks and months.

Ngane Punivai, Highlanders
The versatile centre/wing began to make his breakthrough at the Highlanders last season, following an offseason move from the Crusaders. His physical gifts were clear to see during his time at Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup, although a step up to semi-regular appearances in Super Rugby showed that his ability to distribute and create space and opportunity for others around him was also very effective.

Punivai will be aiming to lock down the 13 jersey at the Highlanders this season and with clinical threats like Nehe Milner-Skudder, Jona Nareki and Vilimoni Koroi outside of him, look for Punivai to deliver both punch and precision this season to a Highlanders back line that, if given the right sort of foundation from their pack, could cause defences plenty of problems.


Tamaiti Williams, Crusaders
The Crusaders are in the luxurious position of having a squad that does not need to rely on a raft of youngsters coming in due to an exodus of talent, and thus they have excelled in the art of introducing players as seamlessly as possible when they are ready to be exposed to this level of rugby. The big question is whether Williams is ready for that this year?

The sizeable tighthead offers an extremely high ceiling and is already a force to be reckoned with in the loose. He has a fair amount of competition to work his way through at the Crusaders, but the franchise and Scott Robertson will both know that if they can keep Williams’ development ticking along, they could have an extremely formidable anchor to their scrum moving forward.

Ruben Love and Brayden Iose, Hurricanes
We’ve hedged our bets here with Love and Iose, coming in at full-back and back row respectively, as they have the unenviable challenge of trying to push passed players such as Jordie Barrett, Ardie Savea and Du’Plessis Kirifi. But with at least two of that trio set to be heavily involved for the All Blacks this season, opportunities should present themselves.


Love offers a shiftier option at the back in contrast to the physical stature and control that Barrett provides, whilst Iose was a star schoolboy player and has now been given a chance to make good on that early promise and showcase what he can bring at the Super Rugby level, which is powerful carrying and the explosion to turn broken tackles into big gains.

Rivez Reihana, Chiefs
Bryn Gatland and Damian McKenzie have been the men with their hands on the reins at the Chiefs of late, with both bringing a different skill set to the position, although the same could be said of Reihana at 10 as well as at 15, particularly if the latter is vacated by McKenzie in order for him to take up the mantle at fly-half.

Finding a mainstay at 10 has been a challenge for the Chiefs since Aaron Cruden left for Europe and Reihana is clearly a player that they have their eye on as a potential long-term solution. Where he gets his game time this season will be interesting to watch, and if he sees time at multiple positions, just as McKenzie did earlier in his career, that is unlikely to be something which hurts his overall skill development.

Zarn Sullivan, Blues
Death, taxes and New Zealand rugby producing highly impressive full-backs. Sullivan is the latest off the production line and has a lot of traits which match up with Freddie Steward, Leicester Tigers’ exciting 15 who is already beginning to garner England mentions at 20 years of age,

Like Steward, Sullivan has the prototypical frame for the position, with the height and vertical ability to dominate contested catches, as well as the long stride to eat up the ground in counter-attacking situations. The Blues are packed to the brim with talented options in the midfield and back three, although Sullivan could quickly cement himself as the go-to option at full-back, deployed alongside the likes of Caleb Clarke and Rieko Ioane.

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