Covid forces Super Rugby Aupiki teams to Taupō for shortened first season

By James Perry

The inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki competition will begin in a bubble similar to Super Rugby Pacific, with all four squads moving to Taupō.

The historic first women's Super Rugby competition will also be condensed, with the three rounds and final now being played over just three weeks.

The season will kick off on Saturday, March 5, with a five-day break between each subsequent round before the grand final on Sunday, March 20.

NZR general manager professional rugby & performance Chris Lendrum said NZR had consulted with the players' association and clubs, coming to the consensus that this was the best option to see the inaugural competition progress.

“We are 100% committed to seeing this competition go ahead and, under the Covid-19 regulations, this is the best option to see that happen.

The Blues, Chiefs Manawa and Hurricanes Poua will drive to  Taupō next week, while Matatū will travel via charter flight.

The squads will operate in separate bubbles, with exclusive use of training facilities in the Taupō area. The opening round matches and Final will be played at Owen Delany Park in Taupō, with the two mid-week evening rounds hosted at Hamilton's FMG Stadium Waikato.

The first three rounds will all be played as double-headers, all matches broadcast on Sky and Prime, and played without crowds at the red level of the traffic light settings.

Teams will stay at four hotels and will utilise the same Covid-19 protocols used for Super Rugby Pacific. Players will remain in their team bubbles at all times and be subject to regular rapid antigen tests.

Hirini leads Hurricanes Poua

Meanwhile, NZ Rugby Player of the year, and Black Ferns Sevens captain Sarah Hirini was named as the inaugural captain of the Hurricanes Poua.

Hirini said she was thrilled to have the opportunity.  

“It’s a huge honour to be named captain of the Hurricanes Poua. I'm so grateful to play for the region I grew up in and the club I’ve supported for a very long time, alongside some really talented women.” 

“Playing for the Hurricanes Poua is a dream come true. We get to represent our provinces and our wider region of the Hurricanes, so we would love for the region to get behind us, to back us, to support us.”

Further south, Matatū coach Blair Baxter has named Canterbury and Black Fern loose forwards Alana Bremner as the captain for the new side representing the entire South Island. 

Bremner described the captaincy as a huge privilege, and a special opportunity to support this new legacy.

“With Matatū being a brand new team, it’s the first group of wāhine to represent the whole South Island for a Super Rugby competition. It’s a proud moment for the team and all who have helped to build the foundations of this club, which carries so much meaning.”

“When I got the news I just felt this wave of excitement, it’s such a privilege to lead,” she said.

Not alone in her leadership, Bremner touched on the many other roles and responsibilities within Matatū.

“We’ve got plenty of amazing leaders throughout the group, who are really going to help lead the team in this exciting new competition.”

Alana Bremner will lead Matatū in its first Super Rugby Aupiki season. Source/Matatū FB
Fellow Black Ferns loose-forward Kendra Reynolds and Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge will be vice-captains for Matatū.

Baxter said the vice-captains were two amazing athletes who led by their actions.

“They all have points of difference. Obviously, Kendra Cocksedge is world-class not only in her leadership but in her on-field game management. Kendra Reynolds is the same in regards to that defensive aspect – so that physicality, and ‘follow me’ energy.

“Overseeing that is Alana Bremner. She’s led programmes for a couple of years now and she encompasses both those two, but also layers in a really good level of calmness and understanding of each individual in our programme.

“We’ve got some really good balance amongst our leaders."