Public service announcement: New Zealand's first round of Super Rugby pre-season games starts tomorrow and the first competition match kicks off on January 31, a state of affairs that may cause some discomfort to those who feel the still very young year is slipping by too quickly.
But, rest assured, this year's competition starts much earlier than usual due to the need to have everything finished by the time the July test window rolls around (for the All Blacks it's Wales x2 and Scotland). And anyway, spare a thought for the players.
The casual observer may not be ready for on-field collisions all the way from Nelson to Fukuoka to Cape Town and Buenos Aires, but neither, possibly, are those doing the colliding, and it will be fascinating to see if the injury rate is worse as a result for the players who have effectively had one month wiped from their pre-season preparations.
On a related note, this is the 25th anniversary of Super Rugby, a competition which began with such promise in 1996 (with 12 teams who all played each other) and which now limps along in a confusing conference system serving for many as background noise before the serious business of the test season begins. Sometimes less is better.
• Super Rugby: Chiefs hooker Nathan Harris sidelined after shoulder surgery
• Rugby: The rule that will be trialled in Super Rugby
• Chris Rattue: Six things to savour in Super Rugby as All Blacks try to bounce back
• 2020 Super Rugby: The players set to take Super Rugby by storm
But enough of the negativity – for the moment, anyway, and Blues fans in particular might have to brace themselves here. They will have the honour of seeing their team kick off the first competition game of the year when they host the Chiefs at Eden Park, but their relative lack of quality and depth suggest they are once again unlikely to be involved in the last one.
Yes, it's 2020 Kiwi Super Rugby prediction time. It's probable that few New Zealanders picked the All Blacks to crash so badly against England at the recent World Cup but the following list is easier to predict than an apology by a white middle-class Australian male after he loses it over our prime minister.
Having said that, there can be comfort in (near) certainty, so here goes:
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
The Hurricanes will miss Ardie Savea - Knee surgery means the All Blacks loose forward is likely to be unavailable until the playoffs at the earliest. That we won't see much of him in Super Rugby this year is a real disappointment and will hurt a team that relies on his energy. Savea was one of the best in a black jersey against England and yet the nagging feeling remains we didn't see his best in Japan.
Blues to struggle but Tom Robinson to shine – A mid-April return for Beauden Barrett will be too late to lift the Blues, but his eventual appearance should help with crowd numbers as the weather begins to turn. One man set for a big year is loose forward Robinson, an all-action player whose on-field battles with Brodie Retallick in 2019 were epic. More of the same will see him make an extended All Blacks squad at least.
Tony Brown to add pizzazz on return to Highlanders – We're about to again see why Scott Robertson wanted Brown as his running mate to coach the All Blacks. Brown has one of the most creative minds in the game and the Highlanders are sure to entertain.
Sam Cane to be outstanding for Chiefs – New coach Warren Gatland's decision to appoint Cane as sole captain was a no-brainer. The All Blacks missed Cane (left on the bench in favour of Scott Barrett) in that World Cup semifinal, and Cane (along with Ben Smith) played like he had something to prove in that bronze playoff victory over Wales. Only those who have broken their necks (I happen to be married to one, fortunately she had a similarly positive outcome) know what Cane has gone through. He's a seriously impressive leader and person.
Scott Robertson and Crusaders to go close – Missing out on the All Blacks job will have hurt Robertson. Can he use it as fuel to help the Crusaders win their fourth title in a row? Sam Whitelock, Ryan Crotty, Kieran Read and others have gone, but even so I would guess yes.