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Three big questions ahead of the next season of Super Rugby Aupiki

By Adam Julian
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The second edition of Super Rugby Aupiki kicks off this weekend in the afterglow of the Black Ferns World Cup triumph. The 2022 competition was severely disrupted by covid with the Hurricanes Poua and Blues unable to play each other.


Wild weather is the biggest threat to the schedule this year. Super Rugby Aupiki is a young competition with a lot of promise but some serious questions are still to be resolved as well.

Who will win?

Chiefs Manawa took the spoils in 2022 defeating all three sides and would rank as favourites again with no less than 11 past or present Black Ferns among the forwards.

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Te Urupounamu McGarvey is the only front-rower not to be capped internationally with Tanya Kalounivale, Awhina Tangen-Wainohu, Angel Mulu, Santo Taumata, Grace Houpapa-Barrett, and Luka Connor bringing ample size and experience.

Lock Chelsea Bremner played all 12 tests for the Black Ferns last year and firms up a second row that includes former Black Ferns Charmaine Smith and Kelsie Wills.

Experienced Counties pair Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu and Hazel Tubic will partner each other in the halves but with the rest of the backline absent in sevens superstars Kelly Brazier, Ruby Tui and Portia Woodman, it isn’t anywhere near as threatening as the 2022 class suggesting the Chiefs might resort to bullying tactics rather than the free-flowing approach of the Black Ferns to win games.

Canterbury has been the dominant force in New Zealand provincial rugby winning five of the last six Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) Premierships. With 17 Canterbury players in the Matatu roster, it would be almost inexplicable if they were to repeat a winless season.


The forward pack might lack the dynamism of the Chiefs, but Pip Love, Georgia Ponsonby, and Amy Rule were the spine of the Black Ferns’ World Cup success. Canadian international Cindy Nelles is all class at lock while Lucy Jenkins, the top tackler in the FPC, could push for national honours in a crowed loose forward department which includes Black Ferns Marcelle Parkes, Kendra Reynolds, and Alana Bremner.

With Kendra Cocksedge retired there are question marks over a game-driver at nine, but the rest of the backline is stacked with speed and flair. Renee Holmes, Cheyelle Robins-Reti, Grace Steinmetz, Grace Brooker and Amy du Plessis are all Black Ferns. Martha Mataele and Cheyelle Cunningham were the leading try scorers in the FPC.

Who will be watching?

The Black Ferns became bonafide rockstars after the World Cup hanging out at Six60 concerts, the Beehive and winning some award almost every day. The television ratings for the World Cup final broke records, but how popular will Aupiki be?

There were no World Cup fixtures south of the Bombays so apart from jumping aboard a late gravy train how much interest is there really in women’s rugby nationwide?


It was evident during the World Cup the women’s crowd is different. It’s more family oriented and curious. That’s not to say diehard rugby fans don’t care but an acknowledgement of the different expectations and characteristics of the fans would go some way towards building greater audiences.

The Hurricanes Poua taking a fixture to Levin and Matatu playing at Nga Puna Wai is a great idea. It involves often neglected smaller towns and invites a more intimate viewing experience than a giant stadium.

Why are the finals being played at neutral venues? Surely there should be an attempt to build tribalism and one way that happens is local fans seeing their teams win trophies on their home field.

Kendra Cocksedge, Ruby Tui, Portia Woodman, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Stacey Fluhler and Sarah Hirini will not be involved in Aupiki, the six best and most high-profile players in the country. In a young competition searching for oxygen, the absence of such talent is a marketing disaster.


Who are the superstars?

After the World Cup, Ruby Tui became a Jonah Lomu-like figure with crowds flocking to her book signings across the country. Her popularity transcended rugby but in 2023 she’s a TV commentator, not a player. Who in Aupiki can become the next Ruby Tui figure? Is it essential there is one? It’s certainly useful.

If the Hurricanes Poua can get the ball to Ayesha Leti-I’iga she’s a human highlights reel and has a delightful personality to match. Maia Roos (Blues) was huge in the World Cup and has innate charisma, but as a lock, she’s less likely to feature in highlights.

Sylvia Brunt and Patricia Maliepo are two outside backs not yet 21 with real promise but with 17 new players, the Blues look the weakest of the four teams.

Kendra Cocksedge has featured in 68 of the Black Ferns 117 tests, including 53 in a row from 2014 to 2022. Who’s going to rise to the challenge of replacing the champion? Fellow World Cup halfbacks Ariana Bayler (Blues) and Ahriana Marino-Tauhinu (Chiefs) would appear to have the inside running.

Iritana Hohaia (Hurricanes) and Rosie Kelly (Matat?) who plays all over the backline could emerge as contenders too.


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1 Comment
Sharon 478 days ago

I understand that Portia Woodman, Theresa Fitzpatrick, Stacey Fluhler and Sarah Hirini are playing Sevens and Kendra has retired, but anyone know why Ruby is not playing for a Aupiki team this year.

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