Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Kiwi teams making big leap into unknown

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Chiefs Aaron Cruden during the Super Rugby pre-season match against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Chiefs Aaron Cruden during the Super Rugby pre-season match against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

We're all heading into the unknown with the revamped Super Rugby competition and that uncertainty extends to most of the Kiwi sides.

But the Highlanders are the least-effected team for player turnover and they must be considered a good chance to back up last season's breakthrough victory.

Every New Zealand franchise is facing searching examinations, and the Highlanders also have their fair share. But they and the Chiefs are going through less of a transition than their counterparts and I believe those sides set the benchmark as we enter the new campaign.

There's no doubt the Highlanders possess the personnel to challenge for a second Super Rugby title, considering essentially the same group emerged on top last year. It's just a matter of whether coach Jamie Joseph's men can handle the hype and expectations.

That's the biggest question for them - good teams become great teams by dealing with that kind of pressure. The Highlanders have never had to do that, so do they have the ability to turn a young team into one of the great Super Rugby sides?

The Chiefs have shown in the last few years that they were able to do that. It wasn't their best season in 2015 but, again, the personnel is there and I expect them to again be ultra-competitive.

They will start the season against a team I'm pretty passionate about. I want to see the Crusaders find their mojo again. They don't have to win the competition but they have to play with the type of attitude Crusaders teams are expected to play with.

They're almost starting over again and they need to forge their own history. They can't fall back on the past anymore. It has been too long between drinks and they need to rebuild.

The Hurricanes have also lost some personnel, although that word doesn't do it justice. What they've lost is two of the greatest players the All Blacks have produced. You can replace some of that with talent but you can't replace every quality Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith brought. It would be naive to think their departure hasn't created a massive hole in what last year was a potential championship-winning team.

They will have to ask the players who were used to being led by Nonu and Smith to front up. Guys such as TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea are senior players now and need to show some leadership rather than follow.

As for the Blues, they're the enigma of the bunch. Their form in the trial matches showed coach Tana Umaga knows where he wants to take his side, but it was only pre-season.

My area of concern is the halves.

They have Bryn Hall back, which is great, but someone has to take control of the No9 and 10 jerseys for them, otherwise they can't unleash their talent.

If they get that area right they could get a lot of things right.

- NZ Herald

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Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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