Clash of the coaches adds to Super rugby intrigue

Super Rugby starts tonight and the clash of the New Zealand coaches will garner plenty of interest this season.

As always New Zealand sides are favourites and bear the burden of some lofty external expectations.

Rugby reporter Joe Porter looks at what should be a watershed year for the new and old hands at the Super Rugby helm.

The Hurricanes are a stable unit, with an improved culture and record of success, their biggest challenge will be weathering the storm that comes with being defending champions.

Captain Dane Coles knows other teams will be out for retribution.

"People are going to have that mindset especially in the kiwi teams. When we lost to the Highlanders (2015 final) we really wanted to get up for that game and I'm pretty sure it'll be the same this year.

"I think that's a good pressure to have and we've just to make sure we play some pretty good footy because teams are definitely going to come out and try and trip us up.

Two rookie coaches will take the reins in 2017 with former All Blacks Scott Robertson taking over at the Crusaders and Tony Brown at the Highlanders.

One must restore the competiton's most successful side to its former glory, the other must maintain a winning culture brought about by his predecessor.

The Crusaders have won seven Super Rugby titles, four more than any other team, their first coming in 1998.

Todd Blackadder was captain that year, he went on to coach the Crusaders from 2009 to 2016 but could never win a title as a non-player.

Robertson has vowed to return the club to the top of the stack and number eight Kieran Read believes the man they call Razor's rapacious energy is infective.

"He's certainly an excitable coach and he's instilling a lot of confidence in the guys. There's a slightly different feel to the group (than under Blackadder) which is great and I'm sure we'll play a great brand of footy.

Brown faces similar expectations of success at the Highlanders after they won their maiden title in 2015.

However he agrees the pressure down south isn't about restoring but building on what was acheived by former coach Jamie Joseph.


"The last three years (under Joseph) have been a massive turnaround for Highlanders rugby. The previous eight or nine years it was pretty dismal so it's definitely not easy to carry on that good work (and maintain that winning culture) the easy thing is to stuff it up."

The toughest task is arguably faced by Tana Umaga.

He took charge of a Blues team last year that required a complete cultural overhaul to help the club harness the potential of an enormous pool of player talent.

"It's just an understanding of what it will take for us to be a really competitive club. Putting ownership on our players to be more professional in the way they prepare and many other things.

"Everyone talks about us being the most talented and you know we've got great names on paper and things like that but paper doesn't win you games."

The Chiefs Dave Rennie has nothing to prove, he won a Super Rugby title in 2012 in his first year in charge, repeating the feat following season.

The club has made the playoffs every year he's been in charge, but hasn’t contested a final in a few seasons.

Rennie's legacy cemented, hooker Nathan Harris said the players are desperate to give their coach a third crown at his last big dance.

"It's been touched on quite a lot with Rens (Dave Rennie) leaving. He's been such an inspiration to the Chiefs organisation the last couple of years so obviously we're doing it for him."

The bookies have the Hurricanes as favourites to do the double, with all New Zealand sides bar the Blues, who play the Rebels in Melbourne in tonight's season opener, to finish inside the top four.


Photo: Photosport The Crusaders new coach Scott Robertson.