The successful return of New Zealand Rugby continues this weekend. In June, professional sport in New Zealand returned. In fact, it even had stadiums full of fans. Indeed, the country’s management of the Coronavirus pandemic allowed had just rewards.
Since then, the entire Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament has been played. This one-off competition featured New Zealand Rugby’s five teams. It may have only been intended to fill the void left by this year’s cancellations, but it was extremely successful. In the end, the Crusaders came out winners after seriously impressive performances.
This North vs South Island battle first appeared in 1897. Formally, it was an annual fixture. After 1986 though, it has rarely come around. 2012 was the last time it was played.
After the disappointment of the 2019 World Cup, New Zealand rugby is in transition. Firstly, Steve Hansen stepped down. He was replaced by Ian Foster. Secondly, a team that had been much unchanged in years is in need of new blood.
In fact, it was Foster himself who chose the two squads with help from his selectors. It has not been confirmed whether the international team will play in 2020 yet. However, the coaches had the advantage of using the club games played to look at players. Nonetheless, this is another chance to make notes.
The squads have revealed some delicious match-ups. Firstly, the battle for out-half resumes. The 2016 and 2017 Player of the Year Beauden Barrett returns to his preferred position. In the World Cup he largely featured at full-back. Consequently, there has been a huge debate over where he should play.
The man keeping him back is Crusader Richie Mo’Unga. His form during 2020 has made him undroppable. They line out on opposite sides on Saturday.
Barrett will be linking up with TJ Perenara who gets the nod at 9. He has a chance to lay down the gauntlet to Aaron Smith.
The North has a backline that any international team would kill for. There is lightning pace along the back with McKenzie, Reece, and Clarke. This compliments Lienert-Brown and Ioane’s power in midfield.
Yet, the South’s backline is more than capable in its own right. Crusaders Will Jordan and George Bridge deservedly get a place on the wings. They’re joined by the versatile Jordie Barrett.
The Crusaders’ club form is further reflected in the pack. Nepo Laulala is the only non-Crusader in the first 5.
Kick-off is at 8.10 am Irish time. For those willing to get up, Sky Sports Main Event is the place to watch it. Otherwise, it will be repeated on Sky Sports Arena at 2.30 pm.
New Zealand Rugby – North vs South Teams:
North: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara. 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe 2 Asafo Aumua, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 7 Ardie Savea, 8 Hoskins Sotutu.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 23 Mitchell Hunt.
South: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Brayden Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Brad Weber. 1 Joe Moody, 2 Codie Taylor, 3 Nepo Laulala, 4 Samuel Whitelock (c), 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 6 Shannon Frizell, 7 Tom Christie, 8 Tom Sanders.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 George Bower, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Leicester Faingaanuku.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) September 4, 2020