Super Rugby

Jaguares can benefit as star-shorn Super Rugby season kicks off

Wellington - Super Rugby launches its 25th season on Friday, but the silver anniversary will lose its shine with the absence of many stars who lit up the Rugby World Cup only a few months ago.

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In the last season of the cumbersome conference system and one that will say sayonara to the no longer wanted Japanese Sunwolves, the talent vacuum will be highlighted from game one when the Blues host the Chiefs.

The Blues' star signing from the off-season Beauden Barrett - the All Blacks playmaker and double World Player of the Year - has an extended holiday written into his new contract and won't be seen until mid-April.

It's not just the Blues who are suffering, as the Chiefs' Brodie Retallick, another former World Player of the Year, has been excused Super Rugby so he can play in Japan, but still be available for the All Blacks.

Retallick's New Zealand second row partner Sam Whitelock, one of five All Blacks missing from the Crusaders pack, is in Japan on the same deal.

Most of the Springboks squad that lifted the World Cup in Japan are now scattered throughout Europe and Japan.

The Bulls, the best of the four South African clubs last year, have said goodbye to six of their World Cup heroes - including Lood de Jager, Duane Vermeulen and Handre Pollard.

The defections continue through every Super side bar the Jaguares - primarily Los Pumas in disguise - who, after losing last year's final to the Crusaders must now fancy their chances of going one better.

The powerful Crusaders forward pack which laid the platform for their consecutive titles over the past three years has been decimated with retirements and sabbaticals for Whitelock, Kieran Read, Jordan Taufua Owen Franks and Matt Todd along with backline general Ryan Crotty.

But coach Scott Robertson has taken a positive approach to the loss of talent.

"Obviously a lot of those guys have been part of the furniture here for a long time, so there is a real fresh feel around the place," he said.

"Naturally, when you lose a lot of leaders it's time for the next crop to come through and take a bit more on their shoulders. I think that's what we've done as a leadership group so far this year."

It's a view shared by Brumbies head coach Dan McKellar who lost 157 Test caps with the departures of David Pocock, Christian Lealiifano, Henry Speight, Rory Arnold and Sam Carter after the World Cup.

Rather than splash out on buying big-name replacements, McKellar said he had confidence in his younger squad members to fill the void.

"To bring someone in externally to train them up on what's expected of them on-field and off-field, there's a whole lot of work there and you're not necessarily going to get it right," McKellar said.

"So we'll back the young guys. They're young guys but we're backing them because they're ready to go and they'll be ready to go on the 31st."

The Brumbies open against the Reds who have picked up James O'Connor and Henry Speight to join Jordan Petaia and Samu Kerevi in a potent looking backline.

The Bulls play the Sharks who are without "Beast" Mtawarira, along with Ruan Botha and the Du Preez brothers.

The Sunwolves start their final season against the Rebels and the Crusaders play the Waratahs.

The Stormers, who have kept Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit while Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende have moved to France and Japan, play the Hurricanes and the Jaguares are at home to the Lions.

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