As ever post a Rugby World Cup there has been significant movement of Super Rugby players. Historically, southern hemisphere players have been tempted to Europe whereas this year they have generally moved between franchises in their own country. This will add extra spice to some of the derby games within each of the conferences.
The Brumbies and Hurricanes squads have been decimated and are having to rebuild. The prospect of Ma’a Nonu and Piri Weepu in the Blue of Auckland will be enough to put some Canes fans off their Tui beer. While Brumbies fan are unlikely to warm to the sight of Rocky Elsom and Adam Ashley-Cooper appearing in the Waratahs line-up.
The Chiefs have added Aaron Cruden and SBW to offset the loss of Mils Muliaina and Stephen Donald, amongst others, and the Crusaders have long been accused of using their success to poach players. In South Africa, the Bulls will miss Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Danie Roussow, while the Stormers will still expect to make the play-offs despite the departure of Jaque Fourie and Francois Louw.
Maybe increased player movement will become the norm for modern rugby as it is in soccer. Head hunting has long been commonplace in banking. The Melbourne Rebels (or the RaboDirect Rebels to give them their cheque book title) will feature England’s Danny Cipriani, Kurtley Beale from New South Wales and the Western Force’s James O’Connor, an Australia international of New Zealand parentage and South African grand parents. People are less attached to place than they once were.
Supporters are always sad to see quality and experienced players leave but invariably understand the appeal of a lucrative contract in Europe, as they approach the twilight of their careers. The acrimonious departures from the Hurricanes and the Brumbies however may be more difficult to swallow for the respective supporters unless their teams make the play-offs.
A bond between players and supporters, combined with winning rugby is the best way to get bums on seats. Rugby supporters in Canberra & Wellington should have realistic expectations for their teams this season but in both cases should demand commitment, pride and ambition as a minimum from the new squads. The as yet unproven rookie Mark Hammett will face similar coaching challenges to the experienced RWC winning Jake White. This in itself will be a contest worth following within Super Rugby this year.
The franchises in the two capital cities will have to work hard to reconnect with their supporters and win back some of the respect lost last year or they face the prospect of fans changing allegiance, something which was previously unimaginable.
Which of the two coaches do you think will be best able to develop and mentor their young charges?
White or Hammett?