Highlanders vs Chiefs (Saturday 8am, Sky Sports Action and Main Event); Blues vs Hurricanes (Sunday, 4.30am – repeat at 10am, Sky Sports Action)
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 10/06/20 5:12pm
With Super Rugby Aotearoa kicking off this weekend in New Zealand, live on Sky Sports, we pick out the players to keep an eye on…
Rugby returns to our screens and to the southern hemisphere on Saturday, as the Highlanders face the Chiefs live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event at 8am.
On Sunday, the Blues host the Hurricanes, with kick-off time at 4.30am – while we’ll be showing a repeat of the full game from 10am on Sky Sports Action.
Beauden Barrett (Blues)
The headline performer in New Zealand for several years, Barrett’s transfer to the Blues from the Hurricanes was one of the most surprising and high-profile moves in many a season.
The playmaker has yet to pull on Blues colours in a match, and this Sunday’s Super Rugby Aotearoa clash against old employers the Canes at Eden Park will prove his debut for the franchise, live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event.
Whether at 10 or 15, Barrett is one of the greatest open-field attackers the sport has seen, with pace, wonderful balance and running lines, superb passing and an outstanding rugby brain.
His kicking off the tee has been a hamper of his game at club level and Test level for the All Blacks, but in terms of an attacking and playmaking back, there are few better. He’s likely to put on quite a show for the Blues.
Damian McKenzie (Chiefs)
Having burst onto the scene as one of the most exciting outside-backs in world rugby, McKenzie’s career was halted in last season’s Super Rugby season by a torn ACL injury to his knee in April 2019.
The injury caused him to miss the rest of the campaign and the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan – and that at a time when McKenzie was really pushing to become the starting All Blacks full-back.
He made his return 10 months later in February 2020 as the Chiefs beat the Crusaders, only for the campaign to then be curtailed due to Covid-19.
Now back and fully firing, McKenzie will have massive motivation to go out and take Super Rugby Aotearoa by storm.
Super Rugby’s Player of the Year for 2016, 2017 and 2018, could he do the same in 2020 for Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland?
Ardie Savea (Hurricanes)
The All Blacks may not have won the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with England dumping them out at the semi-final stage, but Savea still proved one of the best players in the tournament.
The back-row is a phenomenal performer, and seems to have each and every attribute you could want from a professional rugby player.
A superb ball-carrier and offloader, fantastic breakdown threat, more-than-capable lineout forward, powerful in the loose and defence, and possessing great speed with ball in hand, Savea has it all.
He was nominated for World Player of the Year in 2019, and received the New Zealand Player of the Year award for the same year. Former club team-mate and Sunday’s opponent Beauden Barrett has referred to Savea as ‘the All Blacks’ most influential player’.
The Hurricanes struggled at the start of this campaign, largely in part due to the difficulty in ably replacing the quality of Barrett and to Savea’s long-term knee injury, picked up at the World Cup.
Savea is back fit and ready to start for the Canes against the Blues this weekend though, and his leadership and performance-level will go a long way to determining victory and defeat.
Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)
An NPC champion with Canterbury in 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and a Super Rugby champion with the Crusaders in 2017, 2018, and 2019, Mo’unga’s professional career has proved utterly trophy-laden.
Add to that the fact his displays were so good, All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen shifted Beauden Barrett to full-back in order to accommodate Mo’unga at 10, and it’s easy to see how talented a performer the Crusaders out-half is.
A key cog in the Super Rugby title-winning sides of the last three years, Mo’unga has super hands, a creative kicking game and possesses a step and running threat too.
The Crusaders remain the side to beat, and Mo’unga the playmaker to shut down.
Nehe Milner-Skudder (Highlanders)
A 2015 Rugby World Cup winner and World Cup final try scorer with the All Blacks, as well as 2015’s World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year, Milner-Skudder hasn’t played for New Zealand or anyone since a November 2018 Test against Japan.
A string of serious shoulder injuries jolted the wing’s career to such an extent, he has admitted considering retirement.
Having featured for the Hurricanes in his Super Rugby career, a three-year contract with France’s Top 14 outfit Toulon was signed in 2018, but never transpired due to injuries.
Then, it was announced Milner-Skudder would make a long-awaited return to rugby in Super Rugby Aotearoa, however, with a new team in the form of the Highlanders.
While Milner-Skudder has been on the sidelines, the likes of Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece and George Bridge have emerged as viable All Black wing options.
He’s sure to want to show what he can do after what must have been an immensely frustrating period.
Joe Marchant (Blues)
And lastly, we’ve stuck in a sixth player to watch out for, and another Blue in the shape of Harlequins centre Joe Marchant.
It’s exceedingly rare to see a player from this hemisphere go down to Super Rugby, even rarer to see it with an English player nearing the prime of his career – yet that is exactly what centre Marchant has done.
A sabbatical agreed with Quins saw him commit to a new contract while then venturing south to Auckland.
And now he’ll have the chance to play in a back-line consisting of Beauden Barrett, Rieko Ioane, Mark Telea, Otere Black and potentially Dan Carter too.
Pacey, powerful and robust, Marchant could thrive from midfield. Keep an eye out for him.
Source : Sky Sports