Burning questions for the NZ Super Rugby teams

It's re-boot time for Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty
It's re-boot time for Aaron Cruden. Photo / Getty

Chris Rattue lists the key questions surrounding the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises ahead of the upcoming season.

BLUES

Can George Moala and Rene Ranger work up a midfield combo or are they too similar? Photo / Getty
Can George Moala and Rene Ranger work up a midfield combo or are they too similar? Photo / Getty

Is Tana Umaga a miracle worker?
There are good examples of new coaches effecting immediate turnarounds - particularly Dave Rennie at the Chiefs. Umaga has got a couple of terrific lieutenants in Jerome Kaino and new recruit Tanerau Latimer as starting points in building a new culture.

Can Akira Ioane make an impact?
Loose forward Akira Ioane is a superstar in the making but his preparation has been de-railed by playing for the Olympic-bound national sevens. Can the flying tower block make a big impact in the 10 weeks the Blues will have him - the training regimes for 15s and 7s are very different.

9-10
The Blues still look behind the 8-ball with their halfback/first five-eights combination. Ihaia West is the big hope at No. 10 but Umaga needs to work on the three Cs - certainty, confidence and combination.

Midfield combo
Can George Moala and Rene Ranger work up a midfield combo or are they too similar? If these two blockbusters fire, the Blues are in business.

Return of Patrick Tuipulotu
Remember him? Hip surgery took him out of World Cup consideration - will he be the same dynamic lock who looked capable of being a world beater?

CHIEFS

All eyes will be on Aaron Cruden with All Black ramifications never far away. Photo / Christine Cornege
All eyes will be on Aaron Cruden with All Black ramifications never far away. Photo / Christine Cornege

Aaron Cruden
He's back after knee surgery. It's re-boot time for Cruden, and he is pivotal to the Chiefs. All eyes will be on the No.10 with All Black ramifications never far away.

The great unknown
How badly will injuries to their big recruits hurt the Chiefs? Prop Nepo Laulala is out for the season, and lock Dominic Bird will also miss up to three months with a foot injury. These are huge blows.

Cane's huge year
Sam Cane has been touted as All Black captaincy material and he steps up to co-captain the Chiefs alongside Cruden. Cane is no longer in New Zealand rugby's biggest shadow - being lined up as Richie McCaw's replacement in the No. 7 jersey is one thing, actually doing the business is another. It's a huge year for Cane.

Looking for a rising star?
Try the teenaged Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson. The Auckland-raised schoolboys standout has already shown what he is capable of in the ITM Cup. His running skills look right at home in the Chiefs style.

New coaching team
Dave Rennie will be looking to rediscover the title winning mojo with a new coaching team - it could freshen up the outfit but losing assistant Wayne Smith has to be seen as a big blow at this stage. And Rennie has also lost Liam Messam's leadership power and defensive attitude.

HURRICANES

Switching between sevens and 15s this year makes Ardie Savea's job tougher. Photo / Darren Taumata
Switching between sevens and 15s this year makes Ardie Savea's job tougher. Photo / Darren Taumata

The new Ma'a Nonu?
That's a bit too much expectation to place on Ngani Laumape just yet. But the former Warriors league back, who had played union for New Zealand Schools, is one of the most interesting 2016 Super Rugby recruits. Some are predicating big things from him but he has had injury issues.

Always the bridesmaid...
Can the 2015 finalists who dominated the regular season put themselves in a position to go one better, and win a first title. The 2015 season hinted at a new era yet in the end, the franchise couldn't shed the bridesmaid image.

Savea's sevens switching
Ardie Savea is an absolute excitement machine, but he needs to get rid of the All Black apprentice tag. Nailing the loose forward technical aspects is the key, but switching between sevens and 15s this year makes his job tougher.

Second season syndrome?
The 2016 season belonged to Nehe Milner-Skudder - no second season syndrome please. Milner-Skudder's World Cup suggests his brilliance is here to stay.

How to replace Conrad?
Conrad Smith was unique, so there's no point in trying to find a direct replacement for the departed All Black centre. It is shaping as the problem position for Chris Boyd, and first cab off the rank Matt Procter suffered a fairly significant knee injury in a trial against the Blues.

CRUSADERS


Have the Crusaders hung on to Todd Blackadder a year too long? Photo / Getty
Have the Crusaders hung on to Todd Blackadder a year too long? Photo / Getty


Blackadder's final year
This may seem unkind, but have the Crusaders hung on to Todd Blackadder a year too long? The franchise legend is in his last season, having failed to win a title in his previous seven. He's been unlucky - the crazy travel of 2011 and a rotten refereeing decision in 2014 robbed his teams. But the Crusaders appear in a rut.

How to replace two greats?
They had to depart some time. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are gone, and they weren't the star performers of old anyway at Super Rugby level. Matt Todd is a quality replacement for McCaw, but No. 10 is an issue, with Colin Slade and Tom Taylor also having departed. Step up Marty McKenzie, Richie Mo'unga and former Waratah Ben Volavola - it's a sort of X Factor contest to replace Carter's x-factor.

Now or never for Dagg
Runaway train Nemani Nadolo is the attacking talisman but don't forget Israel Dagg, who says he's found the fun in rugby to run again. Dagg went from golden boy to All Black discard - it's probably now or never to rediscover the old magic.

Back to Nadolo...
He heads to the riches of French rugby after this seasons so with his future nicely sorted, the big man should be free to run riot again.

Read's return
Kieran Read has made the odd decision to miss the opening two rounds against the Blues and Chiefs. That's poor form to some - and can he find his very best form? Read had a decent World Cup but the heights of 2013 are eluding him.

HIGHLANDERS

The Highlanders won't be catching anyone unawares this season. Photo / Getty
The Highlanders won't be catching anyone unawares this season. Photo / Getty

Pressure of champions
The Highlanders won't be catching anyone unawares this time around, which will make life a bit tougher. The 2015 champions have had minimal comings and goings although they will field a new look loose forward combo. The Highlanders will rely on the usual suspects - Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa and co.

Sopoaga's big year?
This could be Lima Sopoaga's big year. The 2015 season was his breakout, highlighted by an impressive test debut in Johannesburg. He missed the World Cup but watch out Aaron Cruden - that No. 10 test jersey is a contest.

Leading from the front again
There are a few forwards who may feel they did not get their due credit last season, despite the Highlanders against-the-odds title win. Elliott Dixon and co. will be desperate to show they are no one season wonders, with legitimate higher aspirations.

Is Malakai Fekitoa in a good space?
His out-of-the-blue social media revelation about anger problems won praise on one level, but must make rugby pundits wonder if there is a background issue which could set back his career.

Coaching changes
Jamie Joseph is Japan-bound after this season, and maybe his assistant Tony Brown is also headed for test coaching ranks after stamping his mark last year. Brown looks the logical replacement for Joseph, and the former fan favourite's reputation as a coach is growing.

- NZ Herald

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