Rugby World Cup 2021 – World’s best descend on New Zealand
For the first time ever, New Zealand will host the women’s Rugby World Cup later this year in Auckland and Northland. The tournament runs from the 18th of September until the 16th of October with games to be played at Eden Park, Whangarei’s Northland Events Centre and Waitakere Stadium. 11 of the world’s best teams will descend on New Zealand shores, joining the defending champion Black Ferns as they attempt to win their sixth title. For everything you need to know about the 2021 Rugby World Cup, visit HERE.
Black Ferns go for glory on home soil
The Black Ferns are the most successful rugby team when it comes to World Cups. As mentioned, they have already won five titles – 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2017. Stalwarts Renee Wickliffe, Kendra Cocksedge, Kelly Brazier and Carla Hohepa are searching for their third title, having all been part of the champion sides in 2010 and 2017. It’s going to be an honour for the Black Ferns to finally have the chance to play the pinnacle event on home soil in front of whānau and friends. You can follow the Black Ferns road to the World Cup on social media @blackferns.
The return of Brodie Retallick
Yes, that’s right. Big Brodie Retallick will return to Aotearoa later this year, once the Japan Top League season comes to a close. The 29 year-old who’s been plying his trade with the Kobelco Steelers is contracted to New Zealand Rugby until 2023, but had a sabbatical included in his deal. He will miss the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa season but is expected to be back in time for the All Blacks international season in the middle of the year. He would of course need to be selected and having not played a lot of rugby in Japan due to Covid-19 and the rise of the likes of Patrick Tuipulotu and Tupou Vaa’i back home, he may well have his work cut out for him. But we know he’s a classy player and we can’t wait to have him back.
Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa is back, with a final
The second edition of Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa is back, and it promises to be even better than the 2020 season. Most importantly, there will be a final. Last year we were all set to have an unofficial final with the Blues to take on the Crusaders, but Auckland’s second lockdown put a stop to that. Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa will consist of 10 rounds and a final on Saturday 8 May. Will anyone be able to stop the Crusaders in 2021?
Will we see a golden point in Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa?
With Covid-19 last year came the opportunity for New Zealand Rugby to mix things up a bit. A golden point system was introduced, but we didn’t get to see it in 2020, despite a number of very close games. We saw it in the Mitre 10 Cup, so it would be very exciting to see a golden point scenario in the Super Rugby competition this year.
Four Kiwi referees to officiate at the Olympic Games
A record number of New Zealand referees will officiate at the Olympic Games in Japan later this year. Richard Kelly, Lauren Jenner, Selica Winiata and James Doleman will all have the whistle during the Sevens tournament at the Tokyo games. It will be the first Olympic Games for Jenner, Winiata and Doleman, with Kelly having refereed in Rio.
Bring on the Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition
At the conclusion of the Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa competition in May, a Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition will kick off against the five Australian Super Rugby sides – Brumbies, Waratahs, Reds, Force and Rebels. Each team will play each other once, with a final to take place at the end of the round robin. It will be great to see the Trans-Tasman Super Rugby rivalry revive itself this year. Of course, all will be dependant on whether the borders are open, but we’re looking forward to the prospect nonetheless.
Who will be a breakout star in 2021?
2020 saw the likes of Caleb Clarke, Cullen Grace, Will Jordan and Jorja Miller all make their own impact on the game. So, who will impress in 2021? There are 26 rookies in Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa, with a couple more to be added. Several are from the Under 20s programme, All Blacks Sevens as well as Red Bull Ignite7 and Jock Hobbs Under 19 MVP’s. The likes of Taine Plumtree (Blues), Simon Parker and Xavier Roe (Chiefs) and Fletcher Newell (Crusaders) have come out of the Under 20s, while Tupou Vaa’i (Chiefs) is fully contracted for the first time despite making his All Blacks debut last year. All Blacks Sevens player Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens had a standout Mitre 10 Cup season with Taranaki, earning him a contract with the Blues. The All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens just announced some exciting new talent, with Sevens legend Eric Rush’s son Brady signing on alongside Moses Leo. Keep an eye out for new Black Ferns Sevens recruit Manaia Nuku as well.
Rene Ranger back in Super Rugby
Northland’s finest Rene Ranger hasn’t played Super Rugby since 2017. And all of those previous games were for the Blues. But here he is in 2021, at the age of 34 all set to don the Red and Black jersey of the Crusaders. Ranger answered an SOS call from Scott Robertson, who will be without George Bridge and Manasa Mataele for the opening rounds of the competition through injury. Ranger is back playing some sensational rugby, having helped guide Northland to the Mitre 10 Cup semi-finals last year. He’ll bring his usual flare and his vast experience to the Crusaders squad and if is picked to play, it will likely be at centre.
Bring on another year of Secondary School rugby
2020 produced some enthralling Secondary School rugby from right around the country. And despite a disrupted season, we’ll get the chance this year to get a glimpse of tomorrow’s stars as well as the continual improvement of the girls’ secondary school competition. Sky Sport NZ commentator Ken Laban labelled the Christs College v Christchurch Boys thrilling match last year as “one of the great first XV games of all time.” And we can’t forget Auckland Grammar’s stunning comeback to claim their first win at King’s College since 2014. We’re looking forward to another exciting season of secondary school rugby, celebrating all ages and divisions.
All Blacks calendar
The All Blacks, like all other teams had an altered calendar in 2020, but there is still hope in 2021 that the July Tests and the Rugby Championship will go ahead. Watch this space for more news and updates on the All Blacks 2021 schedule.
Age is just a number
One of the highlights of the 2020 season was the number of veterans playing key roles across Super Rugby Aotearoa and the Mitre 10 Cup. With Covid-19 still playing havoc with competitions across the world, expect to see even more veterans in action in 2021. Some of the old hands to standout in 2020 included 42-year-old hooker Jason Rutledge for Southland, 35-year-old former All Blacks captain Kieran Read for Counties Manukau, 36-year-old Rugby World Cup winner Liam Messam for Waikato, and 39-year-old lock Alex Ainley for Premiership winners Tasman Mako.
Much-anticipated Under 85kg Club Cup returns
Having had the inaugural season cut short due to Covid-19, the New Zealand Barbarians Under 85kg Cup will return this year to its full potential (Covid permitting). The exciting knockout competition for men’s weight-restricted rugby was shortened late last year and it saw the Eden Lizards defeat the Auckland University Squids in the final at Eden Park.
Going for Gold
Covid-19 disrupted the sporting world in 2020 and there was no bigger disruption than the postponement of the Olympics to 2021. The 12-month delay will have only added to the determination for the Black Ferns Sevens and All Blacks Sevens to stand atop the podium in Tokyo this July/August. At the 2016 Olympics the Black Ferns Sevens nabbed silver while the All Blacks Sevens missed out on a podium finish. With both teams now the reigning World Sevens Series champions they will have gold squarely in their sights in Tokyo.
Log o’ Wood
The Ranfurly Shield underlined its status as one of the grandest prizes in New Zealand rugby in 2020. The Log o’ Wood first changed hands when Jordie Barrett landed a 49 metre penalty for Taranaki to defeat Canterbury 23-22 in Christchurch. Taranaki’s reign only lasted one week as Otago stunned the amber and blacks with a famous 30-19 win in Inglewood. Otago’s reign was cut short after just one week also when Hawke’s Bay claimed the Shield with a 28-9 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium. The Magpies then saw off three challengers to end 2020 as the well-deserved holders. The Magpies will be looking to do the unthinkable in 2021 and hold the Shield for a calendar year, something that hasn’t been achieved since Canterbury in 2004-2006.
Five-peat for Canterbury in the Farah Palmer Cup?
Canterbury left it to the 82nd minute to secure their fourth straight Farah Palmer Cup title with an 8-7 win over Waikato in 2020. It capped off a second straight unbeaten season for Canterbury and sets the side up for a fifth consecutive title this year. With the rise of Northland and Waikato in 2020, alongside the perennial strength of Auckland and Counties Manukau, plus the giant-killing ability of Wellington and Manawatu, don’t expect a free pass for Canterbury in the 2021 Farah Palmer Cup.
Expect the unexpected
If there is one thing that Covid-19 has taught us, it is to expect the unexpected. With international borders shut down in 2020, New Zealand fans were treated to a pulsating Super Rugby Aotearoa competition, the first North v South clash since 2011, and a historic encounter between the Maori All Blacks and Moana Pasifika. While we hope for a resumption of a normal calendar in 2021, we still don’t know for sure what 2021 will bring. Strap yourself in for another exciting year of rugby.
The All Blacks unleashed nine debutants onto the park in 2020 with wing Caleb Clarke quickly becoming a star of the global game. Who will make the step up into a black jersey in 2021? Tune into Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa to see who presses their case to the All Blacks selectors.
Red Bull Ignite 7 returns
Ignite 7 is quickly becoming a fixture on the calendar and will return in 2021. Last year, the Bolt, Inferno, Power and Surge teams were selected from a live draft and went on to play two exciting days of sevens rugby with the Bolt emerging victorious in both the men’s and women’s division.
Whether at First XV or club level, or on the International stage with the All Blacks and Black Ferns, there is nothing quite like witnessing a haka. 2021 is sure to bring many more stirring moments and emotional challenges.
Fans in the stand
With crowds restricted around much of the world due to Covid-19, we are grateful in New Zealand we can still host fans in stadium. Get your Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa memberships and tickets HERE and experience the action live in ground.