Experience and continuity run through the 2021 Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa squads announced today with just 26 rookies across New Zealand’s five clubs and just nine player transfers.
The 26 ‘rookies’, defined as those players who have signed their first full-time Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa contracts, is well down on the 46 new faces named in the 2020 squads.
A total of 193 contracted players have been named across the Blues, Gallagher Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes with the Blues and Chiefs each still to add one additional player.
The official rookies’ class of 2020 is:
Highlanders (3): Sam Gilbert (Otago), Jermaine Ainsley, Kazuki Himeno
Crusaders (4): Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Chay Fihaki, Isaiah Punivai (Canterbury)
Chiefs (7): Ollie Norris, Simon Parker, Xavier Roe, Rivez Reihana (Waikato), Tupou Vaa’i, Josh Lord, Kaylum Boshier (Taranaki)
Hurricanes (5): Tevita Mafileo, Luke Campbell (Bay of Plenty), Ruben Love, Pepesana Patafilo (Wellington), Brayden Iose (Manawatu)
Blues (7): Soane Vikena, AJ Lam, James Lay, Zarn Sullivan (Auckland), Sam Darry (Canterbury), Taine Plumtree (Wellington), Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki)
** Foreign player new to Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa
The rookie class of 2021 includes the youngest player, Auckland hooker Soane Vikena, who joins the Blues at 19-years, 5 months and one day old, more than 17 years younger than the oldest contracted player – two-Test All Black lock and newly minted Highlander Bryn Evans. Vikena is one of 12 rookies to have come through the New Zealand Under 20s programme.
Evans (Hawke’s Bay), who has previously played for the Blue and Hurricanes, returns to Sky Super Rugby for the first time since 2009. Otago prop Josh Hohneck (Highlanders), and Hawke’s Bay wing Lolagi Visinia (Hurricanes), also return to Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa after lengthy absences overseas.
The off-season transfer market was relatively quiet, but included some notable moves including:
• First-five Bryn Gatland – to the Chiefs from the Highlanders
• Outside back Solomon Alaimalo – to the Highlanders from the Chiefs
• Prop Sione Mafileo – to the Chiefs from the Blues
• Loose forward Billy Harmon – to the Highlanders from the Crusaders
• Utility back Fetuli Paea – to the Highlanders from the Crusaders
• Utility back Chase Tiatia – to the Chiefs from the Hurricanes
• Utility back Jonah Lowe – to the Chiefs from the Hurricanes
• Prop Nepo Laulala – to the Blues from the Chiefs
• Loose forward Dillon Hunt – to the Blues from the Highlanders
New Zealand Rugby General Manager Professional Rugby & Performance Chris Lendrum said the squads pointed to another thrilling edition of Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“It’s great to see such settled squads and I think we are going to see another closely contested competition similar to what played out in 2020.
“All five teams have made some tactical moves and brought in some really exciting young talent and it’s been great to see some very experienced players bring their skill, knowledge and leadership back to the competition.
“I think fans will be intrigued to see who comes out on top in 2021 in what will be another unique season, firstly with Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa, then through to the separate Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition.”
There will be 13 sets of brothers across the five squads, but only three sets play for the same team – Lachlan and Kaylum Boshier (Chiefs), Ardie and Julian Savea (Hurricanes), and Akira and Rieko Ioane (Blues).
The other brothers are Scott and Jordie Barrett (Crusaders & Hurricanes), Peter and Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Hurricanes & Highlanders), Ofa and Isi Tuungafasi (Blues & Crusaders), Jack and Josh Goodhue (Crusaders & Blues), Ngane and Isaiah Punivai (Highlanders & Crusaders), Bailyn and Zarn Sullivan (Chiefs & Blues), Jackson and Connor Garden-Bachop (Hurricanes & Highlanders), Sione and Tevita Mafileo (Chiefs & Hurricanes), and Daniel and Anton Leinert-Brown (Highlanders & Chiefs).
Defending Sky Super Rugby champions, and Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy holders, the Crusaders brought in four Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup players in 20-old props Fletcher Newell and new Maori All Black Williams as well as versatile backs Fihaki and Isaiah Punivai.
The Blues squad includes 12 current or former All Blacks as well as two Samoa Rugby World Cup players in front rowers Ray Nuia and Lay, who returns from a stint with Bristol in England.
Among the rookies is Wellington lock Plumtree, son of All Blacks Assistant Coach John Plumtree, while outside backs Lam, Zarn Sullivan and Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens add to a talented back division.
The Highlanders have just three rookies including Gilbert and the experienced international duo of loose forward Himeno (Japan) and Cromwell-born capped Wallabies lock Ainsley.
The squad also features the return of former All Blacks loose forward Liam Squire following a season in Japan.
The Chiefs ‘rookies’ include a current All Black in 20-year-old Tupou Vaa’i, who came into the squad in 2020 as injury cover before earning an international call up.
Interim Head Coach Clayton McMillan has ushered in seven rookies including towering Taranaki 2.02m lock Lord and the Waikato halves combination of Roe and Reihana.
A settled Hurricanes squad retains the core of the 2020 squad, welcomes former All Black wing Julian Savea back to the club, and ushers in five rookies including outside Wellington wing Pepesana Patafilo, who earns his first Sky Super Rugby contract at 24.
A full list of the 2020 Sky Super Rugby squads is below:
Hookers: Ray Niuia, James Parsons, Soane Vikena
Props: Alex Hodgman, Nepo Laulala, James Lay, Marcel Renata, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi
Locks: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti , Sam Darry, Josh Goodhue, Jacob Pierce, Patrick Tuipulotu
Loose forwards: Blake Gibson, Dillon Hunt, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Taine Plumtree, Tom Robinson, Hoskins Sotutu
Halfbacks: Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, Jonathan Ruru
Inside backs: Otere Black, Stephen Perofeta, Harry Plummer
Midfield: TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Tanielu Tele’a
Outside backs: Caleb Clarke, AJ Lam, Jone Macilai-Tori, Emoni Narawa, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Zarn Sullivan, Mark Telea
Hookers: Nathan Harris, Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei’aho
Props: Sione Mafileo, Atunaisa Moli, Ollie Norris, Reuben O’Neill, Aidan Ross, Angus Ta’avao
Locks: Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Laghlan McWhannell, Tupou Vaa’i
Loose forwards: Kaylum Boshier, Lachlan Boshier, Mitchell Brown, Sam Cane, Pita Gus Sowakula, Luke Jacobson, Mitchell Karpik, Simon Parker
Halfbacks: Xavier Roe, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Brad Weber
Inside backs: Bryn Gatland, Rivez Reihana, Kaleb Trask
Midfielders: Anton Lienert-Brown, Alex Nankivell, Bailyn Sullivan, Quinn Tupaea
Outside backs: Jonah Lowe, Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Shaun Stevenson, Chase Tiatia, Sean Wainui
Props: Pouri Rakete-Stones, Alex Fidow, Xavier Numia, Tyrel Lomax, Fraser Armstrong, Tevita Mafileo
Hookers: Ricky Riccitelli, Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles,
Locks: Liam Mitchell, James Blackwell, Scott Scrafton, Kane Leaupepe, Isaia Walker Leaware
Loose forwards: Du Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Gareth Evans, Ardie Savea, Devan Flanders, Vaea Fifita, Brayden Iose
Halfbacks: Jamie Booth, Jonathan Taumateine, Luke Campbell
Inside backs: Jackson Garden Bachop, Simon Hickey
Midfield: Ngani Laumape, Billy Proctor, Vince Aso, Julian Savea
Outside backs: Salesi Rayasi, Wes Goosen, Jordie Barrett, Danny Toala, Peter Umaga Jensen, Lolagi Visinia, Ruben Love, Pepesana Patafilo
Props: Joe Moody, Ollie Jager, Isi Tuungafasi, George Bower, Michael Alaalatoa, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell
Hookers: Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, Andrew Makalio,
Locks: Scott Barrett, Quentin Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano
Loose forwards: Cullen Grace, Tom Sanders, Ethan Blackadder, Sione Havili, Whetu Douglas, Tom Christie
Halfbacks: Mitch Drummond, Ere Enari, Bryn Hall,
Inside backs: Richie Mo’unga, Brett Cameron
Midfield: Jack Goodhue, Fergus Burke, Braydon Ennor, Dallas McLeod,
Outside backs: Chay Fihaki, George Bridge, Manasa Mataele, Sevu Reece, David Havili, Will Jordan, Leicester Faingaanuku, Isaiah Punivai
Props: Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Ethan de Groot, Jermaine Ainsley, Josh Hohneck
Hookers: Ricky Jackson, Ash Dixon, Liam Coltman
Locks: Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Maanaki Selby-Rickit, Bryn Evans
Loose forwards: Billy Harmon, James Lentjes, Shannon Frizell, Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Sione Misiloi, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Liam Squire
Halfbacks: Kazuki Himeno, Aaron Smith, Kayne Hammington, Folau Fakatava
Inside backs: Josh Ioane, Mitchell Hunt
Midfield: Fetuli Paea, Sio Tomkinson, Thomas Umaga Jensen, Ngane Punivai
Outside backs: Nehe Milner Skudder, Connor Garden Bachop, Scott Gregory, Jona Nareki, Solomon Alaimalo, Michael Collins, Sam Gilbert, Vilimoni Koroi