Sports

Breakout star candidates for the 2016 Super Rugby season

It’s Super Rugby opening weekend and a few fresh faces are taking to the field. James McOnie does his best to describe just who the hell they are. 

Super Rugby opening weekend is almost upon us and no-one is really ready but too bad, it’s happening. Post-Rugby World Cup is always a big changing of the guard so you’ll see a lot of strangers this weekend. Who the bloody hell are they? Well here’s a guide to a few new faces. Coincidentally they’re all backs. Next week I’ll look at some forwards.

Male Sa’u (Blues centre)

A Counties Manukau lad who played in the New Zealand under-19 side that lost to Australia in the World Cup final so naturally he was banished to Japan. I remember watching that team in the heat of Dubai. Sa’u, playing centre, was the best back, Victor Vito was the best forward but it wasn’t considered a vintage crop of talent so I’m guessing that’s how he was let go. He’s now a fixture in the Japan national side, the Cherry Blossoms. Good decision maker and strong runner.

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Shaun Stevenson (Chiefs fullback/wing)

He’s 19 and very lanky. If he gets on the field on Saturday he’s wondering how he’ll tackle Nemani Nadolo. “I’ll just try to grab one of his legs,” he said. Stevenson has fitted in seamlessly at the Chiefs and has adopted Stephen Donald as a surrogate father or Beaver figure. He’s a long-striding gliding runner and I’m guessing high jump was his best event on athletics day at Auckland Grammar. He only left school in 2014!

Teihorangi Walden (Highlanders second-five)

Named second-five for the Highlanders on Friday, Walden’s been lurking in their wider training group for two years. Playing in assistant coach Scott McLeod’s specialist position should mean this beefy brute is good to go. Originally from Taranaki, he’s a big fan of Beauden Barrett and he went on to play in the 2013 Junior World Cup. He’s a lot whiter than I thought he’d be. I guess his name had a Tukuroirangi Morgan vibe about it.

Ben Volavolva (Crusaders first-five)

Once a team with five first-fives, everyone’s left the Crusaders so they signed Fijian test first-five Ben Volavola from the Waratahs. With Crusaders assistant coach Tabai Matson mentoring him Fiji, Volavola was still a work in progress at last year’s Rugby World Cup. He’s taller than most of the Crusaders loose forwards so don’t be surprised if he ends up at second-five every now and then (they don’t mind a second pivot down Canterbury way), with little shorty and mad stepper Richie Mo’unga handed the No 10 jersey.

Vince Aso (Hurricanes centre)

Chucked out on the wing for Auckland in the ITM Cup the past few seasons, Vinny was a victim of the midfield traffic jam and rocketing house prices (sorry, I’m getting off topic here). This is his second year at the Canes and coach Chris Boyd pretty much believes he’s going to be off-the-charts good. He learnt from the great ones Nonu and Smith last season, now it’s his turn to shine like a young Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith. He likes Bon Jovi and the golf range so it’s a surprise to find out he’s not 35 and is in fact 21.

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