The 26 ‘rookies’, defined as those players who have signed their first full-time Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa contracts, is well down on the 46 new faces named in the 2020 squads.
A total of 193 contracted players have been named across the Blues, Gallagher Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes with the Blues and Chiefs each still to add one additional player.
The official rookies’ class of 2021 is:
Highlanders (3): Sam Gilbert (Otago), Jermaine Ainsley**, Kazuki Himeno**
Crusaders (4): Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Chay Fihaki, Isaiah Punivai (Canterbury)
Chiefs (7): Ollie Norris, Simon Parker, Xavier Roe, Rivez Reihana (Waikato), Tupou Vaa’i, Josh Lord, Kaylum Boshier (Taranaki)
Hurricanes (5): Tevita Mafileo, Luke Campbell (Bay of Plenty), Ruben Love, Pepesana Patafilo (Wellington), Brayden Iose (Manawatu)
Blues (7): Soane Vikena, AJ Lam, James Lay, Zarn Sullivan (Auckland), Sam Darry (Canterbury), Taine Plumtree (Wellington), Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Taranaki)
** Foreign player new to Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa
To view the full list of 2021 Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa squads click HERE.
The rookie class of 2021 includes the youngest player, Auckland hooker Soane Vikena, who joins the Blues at 19-years, 5 months and one day old, more than 17 years younger than the oldest contracted player - two-Test All Black lock and newly minted Highlander Bryn Evans.
Evans (Hawke’s Bay), who has previously played for the Blue and Hurricanes, returns to Sky Super Rugby for the first time since 2009. Otago prop Josh Hohneck (Highlanders), and Hawke’s Bay wing Lolagi Visinia (Hurricanes), also return to Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa after lengthy absences overseas. Vikena is one of 12 rookies to have come through the New Zealand Under 20s programme.
The off-season transfer market was relatively quiet, but included some notable moves including:
First-five Bryn Gatland – to the Chiefs from the Highlanders
Outside back Solomon Alaimalo - to the Highlanders from the Chiefs
Prop Sione Mafileo – to the Chiefs from the Blues
Loose forward Billy Harmon - to the Highlanders from the Crusaders
Utility back Fetuli Paea – to the Highlanders from the Crusaders
Utility back Chase Tiatia – to the Chiefs from the Hurricanes
Prop Nepo Laulala – to the Blues from the Chiefs
Loose forward Dillon Hunt – to the Blues from the Highlanders
New Zealand Rugby General Manager Professional Rugby & Performance Chris Lendrum said the squads pointed to another thrilling edition of Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“It’s great to see such settled squads and I think we are going to see another closely contested competition similar to what played out in 2020.
“All five teams have made some tactical moves and brought in some really exciting young talent and it’s been great to see some very experienced players bring their skill, knowledge and leadership back to the competition.
“I think fans will be intrigued to see who comes out on top in 2021 in what will be another unique season, firstly with Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa, then through to the separate Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition.”
There will be 13 sets of brothers across the five squads, but only three sets play for the same team – Lachlan and Kaylum Boshier (Chiefs), Ardie and Julian Savea (Hurricanes), and Akira and Rieko Ioane (Blues).
The other brothers are Scott and Jordie Barrett (Crusaders & Hurricanes), Peter and Thomas Umaga-Jensen (Hurricanes & Highlanders), Ofa and Isi Tuungafasi (Blues & Crusaders), Jack and Josh Goodhue (Crusaders & Blues), Ngane and Isaiah Punivai (Highlanders & Crusaders), Bailyn and Zarn Sullivan (Chiefs & Blues), Jackson and Connor Garden-Bachop (Hurricanes & Highlanders), Sione and Tevita Mafileo (Chiefs & Hurricanes), and Daniel and Anton Leinert-Brown (Highlanders & Chiefs).
Defending Sky Super Rugby champions, and Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy holders, the Crusaders brought in four Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup players in 20-old props Fletcher Newell and new Maori All Black Williams as well as versatile backs Fihaki and Isaiah Punivai.
The Blues squad includes 12 current or former All Blacks as well as two Samoa Rugby World Cup players in front rowers Ray Nuia and Lay, who returns from a stint with Bristol in England.
Among the rookies is Wellington lock Plumtree, son of All Blacks Assistant Coach John Plumtree, while outside backs Lam, Zarn Sullivan and Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens add to a talented back division.
The Highlanders have just three rookies including Gilbert and the experienced international duo of loose forward Himeno (Japan) and Cromwell-born capped Wallabies lock Ainsley.
The squad also features the return of former All Blacks loose forward Liam Square following a season in Japan.
The Chiefs ‘rookies’ include a current All Black in 20-year-old Tupou Vaa’i, who came into the squad in 2020 as injury cover before earning an international call up.
Interim Head Coach Clayton McMillan has ushered in seven rookies including towering Taranaki 2.02m lock Lord and the Waikato halves combination of Roe and Reihana.
A settled Hurricanes squad retains the core of the 2020 squad, welcomes former All Black wing Julian Savea back to the club, and ushers in five rookies including outside Wellington wing Pepesana Patafilo, who earns his first Sky Super Rugby contract at 24.