Aaron Cruden’s 2020 homecoming hasn’t exactly gone to plan.
Thankfully, Super Rugby will be returning soon – but the format will be turned on its head. Gone are two-thirds of the teams with just the New Zealand sides set to play-off in a winner-takes-all round-robin tournament.
While losing the international aspect of the competition isn’t ideal, it will probably make things a little easier to follow for spectators.
Cruden spoke to RugbyPass before 2020’s one-off competition (officially dubbed Super Rugby Aotearoa) was confirmed and was simply hoping to get back out on the field, no matter what the tournament format – but the potential for something a little bit different still excited him.
“For me, as a bit of a traditionalist, I’d love to go back to just your straight round robin-format,” Cruden said. “But I also do understand that there are certain elements and restrictions that probably aren’t letting that come back into play, as such.”
Ironically, it’s global restrictions which have forced SANZAAR and New Zealand Rugby’s hands. The new competition will see the five Kiwi Super Rugby sides play one another both home and away over a 10-week period. The team with the highest number of competition points at the end of the 10 weeks will be crowned the winners.
It’s about as simple as it can get.
As has been well documented, the derby matches are far and away the toughest challenges that Super Rugby has to offer – which will be both a blessing and a curse for the five New Zealand franchises.
Although the upcoming clashes may be intense, Cruden will just be relishing running out on the park.
“You just try and make the best out of it that you can but we certainly get some tough battles out of those New Zealand derbies,” Cruden said.
“The atmosphere, the pressure, the expectations… All of those things, you know. You chuck that on top of two teams that know each other reasonably well where you’ve got friends playing against each other on both sides and you obviously want to get one up on your mates.
“In a way, that’s what you want as well – there’s a little bit of extra spice and a little bit of extra motivation always when you come up against another Kiwi team, but often that’s sometimes when you play your best rugby too. You can’t really complain about that too much can you?”
New Zealand Rugby has engaged in talks with a multi-billion-dollar American investment firm about taking a stake in the struggling sport.https://t.co/7XHevTqj0e
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 8, 2020
And while international football is still a long way off, the 2020 competition will be an excellent barometer for new All Blacks coach Ian Foster to assess the current crop of players around the country.
Matches against foreign clubs are invaluable for giving New Zealand players an idea how national sides may tackle the game but it’s the derby matches which really test an individual’s mettle.
Former All Blacks coaches have time and time again alluded to the fact that the games between two Kiwi teams are about as close as you can get to test match pressure and atmosphere – without actually playing against an international team.
“Certainly, that’s probably a great way to describe it,” Cruden confirmed.
“The intensity takes it up another level and the bodies are always sore afterwards – but you can deal with the sore body if you’re able to get the win, I think. That’s always the goal.”
From your average spectator’s point of view, it will simply be great to have some rugby back on televisions again, even if attending live matches is out of the question.
The final match of the normal Super Rugby season was played way back on the March 15. Two days earlier, the Hurricanes earned their first win in Hamilton since 2007 in a cracking game against Cruden’s Chiefs, with Jordie Barrett kicking a penalty goal well after the final siren sounded to hand the visitors the 27-24 win.
While fixtures like that may be tough for the players – especially if they’re having to do it week-in and week-out – the public with be buzzing at the opportunity to see the competition’s best teams face-off round after round.
“I also think [an NZ only competition] would be pretty cool for the fans,” said Cruden.
“I think everyone would certainly embrace it and get right behind the local teams. You’ve got the best players in the country going toe-to-toe week-in-and-week-out and it would certainly make for some healthy competition, that’s for sure.”
Super Rugby Aotearoa will kick off in the coming weeks with a mid-June start-date highly probable.
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