14 May 2021

Who will dominate Super Rugby Trans-Tasman?

11:44 am on 14 May 2021

Analysis - New Zealand domination, or genuinely competitive Australian teams?

Crusaders Richie Mo'unga.


That is the big question surrounding Super Rugby trans-Tasman ahead of this weekend's opening round.

Following the completion of domestic competitions in both countries, the combined version kicked off amid much interest in how the teams from across the ditch will fare against their All Black-laden counterparts in Aotearoa.

Prior to leaving to rejoin the Japanese national team, Highlanders coach Tony Brown was not short in confidence in his team, who finished second-last in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

"I think we can win all those games.

"If our guys believe they can do it, we'll be good enough to beat every team in this competition."

If others were just as confident, they were not publicly expressing it.

Having had no break between their Aotearoa title triumph last weekend and the new competition, Crusaders captain Scott Barrett insisted they were not buying into chat of one-sided matches.

"We talk about it being not easier, not harder, just different.

"They play a different style of rugby and they'll test you in different areas.

"If we turn up to this competition thinking it's going to be easy, we won't be holding that trophy up that's for sure."

Australia's big hope was their domestic champions the Reds, who played the Highlanders in Friday night's trans-tasman opener in Dunedin.

Queensland coach, World Cup-winning All Black Brad Thorn said they had huge respect for the New Zealand teams, who were full of highly skilled players.

But he also believed the pundits and bookmakers could be proved wrong.

"We go in there sober knowing there's a really good challenge.

"But we're all about embracing that and we like to think we have some good stuff going on, too.

"We know we won't be highly rated in New Zealand. I guess we'll see."

Richard Kahui has joined the Western Force after seven years with Japanese club side Toshiba.

Former All Black Richard Kahui in action for Japanese club Toshiba. Photo: Photosport

Another All Black World Cup winner also across the ditch agreed.

Western Force centre Richard Kahui said while he was not blind to the differences between New Zealand and Australian rugby, he was confident there would be plenty of competitive games.

"The competition, while the rugby itself hasn't been setting the world on fire, there's a lot of really good rugby players in all the teams.

"There's enough talent over here to certainly match the Kiwis."

The first test of that for Kahui and the Force came against his former team the Chiefs in Perth on Saturday night.

The coach of the beaten New Zealand finalists, Clayton McMillan, said his squad were eager for the challenge after two seasons of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

"It certainly excites the players, who on one hand relish the opportunity to put their best foot forward for the All Blacks by playing against their mates, but also are a little bit over having to go out and bash each other on a week-to-week basis.

"That's not to suggest that playing the Australians is going to be any different but new environments and new teams bring a level of excitement that's refreshing in itself."

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith was certainly up for it.

But the All Blacks No 9 said any air of confidence should not be confused for complacency.

"I've played plenty of Aussie teams saying 'we're the underdogs', but they don't think that.

"They're not coming here thinking they're going to lose, that's just not the Aussie mentality.

"I've played them enough to know if you underestimate the Australians in any way, whether that's at Super or Test level, they'll bite you."

And the Highlanders, like all New Zealand teams, could not afford to have a chunk taken out of them in this weekend's opening round.

Nothing less than five wins from five was expected to be good enough for a spot in the final.