New Zealand’s next generation of young stars, a splash of international talent and a strong core of established stars are spread across the five Investec Super Rugby squads named to contest the competition’s 25th year.
Forty-six 'rookies', defined as those players who have signed their first full-time Investec Super Rugby contracts, are among the 195 players contracted to the Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes for the 2020 season.
There are also nine international players with all five clubs fielding at least one, seven sets of siblings, and 11 players whose fathers also played Investec Super Rugby.
The official rookies’ class of 2020 is:
Blues (8): Emoni Narawa, Kurt Eklund, Baden Wardlaw (Bay of Plenty), Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa (Auckland), Jared Page, Mark Telea, Jack Heighton (North Harbour), Jordan Hyland* (Northland).
Chiefs (9): Bradley Slater*, Kini Naholo, Lisati Milo-Harris (Taranaki), Quinn Tupaea (Waikato), Ryan Coxon* (Tasman), Naitoa Ah Kuoi (Wellington), Dylan Nel (Otago), Kaleb Trask (Bay of Plenty), Orbyn Leger* (Counties-Manukau).
Hurricanes (5): Kane Leaupepe* (Bay of Plenty), Xavier Numia* (Wellington), Pouri Rakete-Stones, Devan Flanders, Danny Toala* (Hawke’s Bay).
Crusaders (12): Isi Tuungafasi* (Northland), George Bower* (Otago), Tom Christie, Brodie McAlister*, Cullen Grace, Fergus Burke, Inga Finau, Dallas McLeod (Canterbury), Ethan Roots (North Harbour), Sione Havili*, Fetuli Paea (Tasman), Sevu Reece* (Waikato).
Highlanders (12): Jeff Thwaites*, Zane Kapeli (Bay of Plenty), Jona Nareki, Ricky Jackson, Sione Misiloi (Otago), Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Ethan De Groot (Southland), Jesse Parete* (Taranaki), Kirisi Kuridrani** (Counties-Manukau), Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Connor Garden-Bachop (Wellington), Scott Gregory (Northland).
*Previously played Investec Super Rugby on an interim contract.
**Previously played Super Rugby in Australia.
To view the full list of Investec Super Rugby Squads click here
Highlighting the strength of New Zealand Rugby’s development pathway are eight players from the 2019 New Zealand Under 20 squad – Dallas McLeod, Cullen Grace, Fergus Burke and Leicester Faingaanuku (Crusaders); Etene Nanai-Seturo, Quinn Tupaea (Chiefs); Devan Flanders (Hurricanes); and Scott Gregory (Highlanders). An additional 21 players have previously been part of the New Zealand Under 20 programme.
Lock Cullen Grace at the Crusaders will be the youngest player at 19 years old, while Hurricanes prop Ben May will be the oldest, at 37.
Nanai-Seturo and Gregory, along with Caleb Clarke (Blues) and Salesi Rayasi (Hurricanes), have put their names forward to join the All Blacks Sevens Olympic campaign next year, meaning the Chiefs, Highlanders, Blues and Hurricanes have been allowed to contract an extra player as cover for the 2020 season.
There are nine international recruits including thrice-capped England and Harlequins centre-wing Joe Marchant at the Blues, and former Sharks centre Kobus van Wyk, who joins the Hurricanes from South Africa.
Canadian captain Tyler Ardron returns from Rugby World Cup duties to the Chiefs, Tongan Rugby World Cup call-up Fetuli Paea joins the Crusaders, while former Australian under 20s representative Chris Kuridrani links up with the Highlanders.
Other international players include Samoa’s Ray Nuia (Blues) and Kane Leaupepe (Hurricanes), Tonga's Zane Kapeli (Highlanders), and United States representative Tony Lamborn (Blues).
Family ties are as strong as ever. Rookies Isi Tuungafasi (Crusaders) and Connor Garden-Bachop (Highlanders) and the return of Peter Umaga-Jensen (Hurricanes) join the ranks of sibling sets which total seven in 2020.
Tuungafasi is the younger brother of Blues and All Blacks prop Ofa, Garden-Bachop is the younger brother of Hurricanes first five-eighth Jackson, while Umaga-Jensen’s twin brother Thomas is a Highlander. The other twins are the Goodhue boys, Jack (Crusaders) and Josh (Blues).
Beauden Barrett’s move to the Blues means the family’s sibling rivalry now stretches across three clubs with Jordie at the Hurricanes, and Scott with the Crusaders. Rieko and Akira Ioane (Blues); and the Lienert-Brown boys Anton (Chiefs) and Daniel (Highlanders) round out the seven sets of Super siblings.
New Zealand Rugby Chief Rugby Officer Nigel Cass congratulated all the players on their selection.
“The year following a Rugby World Cup inevitably creates opportunities for young players and we are fortunate that a large group of players have taken that chance with both hands.
“The Mitre 10 Cup has once again developed players to a high level and our New Zealand Under 20 programme continues to deliver exceptional talent.”
The mixture of youth and experience across the five squads was symbolic of how the competition had evolved during the past 25 years, Cass said.
“When you see there are 11 players in the 2020 squads whose father also played Super Rugby, you start to appreciate the competition’s rich history.
“Like those players, many of our fans will have a deep connection to Super Rugby through attending matches with their parents, and now bringing their own children to the games.
“We’ve moved kick-off times forward to make the competition more accessible to families and we’re looking forward to making more special memories as we celebrate 25 years with some exciting and entertaining rugby.”
As well as early kick-off times Investec Super Rugby clubs have individual kids-free season pass offerings for the 2020 season.
The 2020 Investec Super Rugby season officially kicks off on 31 January.
Full Investec Super Rugby Squads