Super Rugby Aotearoa

Message to SA in NZ's high-tempo rugby start

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Crusaders team-mates David Havilli, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece and Richie Mo'unga
Crusaders team-mates David Havilli, Will Jordan, Sevu Reece and Richie Mo'unga
Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

South Africa's major franchise coaches must be itching more than ever to get their squads back into fullest, collective training status.

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That sense of urgency, I believe, will only have been heightened by evidence from the first two rounds of Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand.

Alert me if I've missed something, but the over-riding impression I have had is that the cream of that country's players - now taking part in the compelling, five-team all-domestic competition - hit the ground running to a near-remarkable extent after Covid-19 lockdown.

It helps that New Zealand, certainly benefitting from being so geographically detached from much of the rest of the world, has led the way in eliminating the virus, meaning a head start for major sport there and the tonic of stadium attendances into the bargain.

All five teams in Aotearoa have now sprung back into action, with the ever-formidable Crusaders joining the party on Sunday after a bye in round one.

Just as incredibly, the Cantabrians made light of the supposed impediment of their extra week's delay in getting involved, possibly saving their most clinical rugby for the last quarter in a fine 39-25 away triumph over the Hurricanes.

Short of a gallop? It hardly appeared so!

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The overall quality of the tournament has been strikingly good so far, even as it could be excused, at least for the first two or three weeks, for having a "pre-season" sort of feel. (I also don't think the sometimes awkward adjustments to the law tweaks have too noticeably affected the flow of contests.)

Bear in mind that we have, effectively, seen the dawning of a new campaign there, as a full three months went by between the suspension of Super Rugby 2020-proper in mid-March and the kick-off to the all-New Zealand version just over a week ago.

That is roughly the period many professional rugby players, certainly in the southern hemisphere, would normally regard as their off-season.

And yes, we can all recall a few notably heavy-legged, severely stop-start and error-strewn matches at the outset of traditional Super Rugby every year (even allowing for the discomfort of summer temperatures), can't we?

The handful of Aotearoa fixtures so far have generally shown few signs of descent into a lumbering hallmark, if you like, in the closing minutes ... far from it.

Players have shown, by and large, enlightening levels of both physical and mental conditioning.

Australia will get on the park soon; there is reason for a nervous shiver or two in the land of the World Cup champions as our return to combat stubbornly remains (or so it seems) many weeks away ...

*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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