With Super Rugby trials underway this week, and the season opener just over a fortnight away, here are six things to savour in a fresh looking title race this year.
Gatland's return to New Zealand has added significant mana to Super Rugby, at a time when its credibility is at an all-time low.
Crowds are down and interest is sagging. Top players from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have retired, quit for greener pastures or are taking a break. Gatland has gone against the flow by finishing up with Wales to return home.
It will be fascinating to track his influence on the Chiefs, and rugby in this country needs a major challenger to the Crusaders' amazing dominance.
But I hope he can exert another positive influence.
As one of the great international coaches Gatland has been a character who is prepared to have his say. New Zealand rugby tends to squash opinions from within, but Gatland should have the strength to deal with that.
Rugby desperately needs strong voices to drive interest and debate. Eddie Jones is an excellent example of that.
Crusaders lose their grip
All power to Scott Robertson and the Crusaders but the other Super Rugby contenders simply can't allow the depleted champs to win another title.
The Crusaders pack has been savaged by departures and Sam Whitelock's Super Rugby holiday. They will also miss veteran back Ryan Crotty's guiding hand on and off the field.
No one would rule the Crusaders out. But their 2020 squad isn't good enough to dominate.
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The competition desperately needs a new champion or at least a stirring final rather than another lopsided conclusion in Christchurch.
Beauden Barrett lights up the Blues, eventually
Barrett is probably the biggest-name recruit to Auckland rugby in the half century I've been following the sport in this city.
It is a tragedy of sorts that he won't start the season, because both the Blues and the Super Rugby competition desperately need him.
Unfortunately I smell a rat with Barrett's likely entry point into the competition. The Blues say he returns to full duties on April 15, which is four days after they play the Hurricanes at Eden Park, the teams having already met in Wellington.
A debut against the team where he made his name would have been fantastic but is probably being avoided, leaving only a third of the regular season for the twice world player of the year to ignite a title challenge this season.
But there is good news. Footy fans in this region desperately need some light at the end of the tunnel. The mighty Barrett is that light.
New Zealand's response to their World Cup embarrassment
New Zealand is used to strutting around the rugby world as the undisputed champ, even if it takes a few heavy blows along the way.
Those days are well and truly gone. The All Blacks were humiliated by England in Japan, and SANZAR rivals South Africa are now top dogs.
New Zealand usually responds strongly in these moments, but not all the indicators are promising. The quest to restore national rugby honour will be a major theme this year.
South Africa's response to their World Cup triumph
There's often a feeling that South Africa is hampered by an inferiority complex when it comes to taking on New Zealand teams.
South African rugby faces incredible obstacles but their imposing World Cup campaign should have instilled some genuine confidence in the ranks making them tougher Super Rugby rivals.
Even Australia can look across the ditch and sense that New Zealand rugby is wounded by the World Cup fiasco against England and the loss of veteran Super Rugby stars, while Argentina's Jaguares must surely believe they can win the title.
In other words, ailing Super Rugby will get a much needed re-boot on the field.
The great lock search
Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock were so dominant that the challengers could only despair. The door is now wide open for All Black locking aspirants. So go on son, make a name for yourself.