BREAKING NEWS: CRUSADERS RUGBY LEGENG REVELED IN DISCUSSING THE HJMBLE ORIGINS OF THE…

The squads have been named – now the lengthy countdown begins to the Super Rugby Pacific opener between the defending champion Crusaders and the Chiefs on February 23.

We break down the six New Zealand-based teams, who’s in and out, and what new coaches Rob Penney (Crusaders), Vern Cotter (Blues), Clark Laidlaw (Hurricanes) and Tana Umaga (Moana Pasifika) have to work with.

Super Rugby Pacific 2024: All the New Zealand-based squads, major gains and losses | Stuff.co.nz

BLUES

New coach. Familiar squad. Incoming Blues boss Vern Cotter will hand the keys to the cutter to Stephen Perofeta as he inherits a largely established group for his shot at the job Leon MacDonald ultimately failed to achieve with the big-city franchise.

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As always, the Blues will have title ambitions with a group who will have to make do without star All Black Beauden Barrett, veteran international prop Nepo Laulala, code-hopper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and energy guy Tom Robinson, among others, for the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.

Still, there is a solid core of a half-dozen World Cup All Blacks and five others who wore the national colours previous to that whom Cotter will look to for leadership, consistency of performance and firepower.

Filling Barrett’s boots will be vital, as the multi-faceted playmaker was a key figure for the Blues in and around his sabbatical to Japan (in 2021). Perofeta, a fleet-footed instinctive attacker, did the job well in ‘21 and will again be the designated director at first receiver, with likely backup from Harry Plummer and, potentially, new rookie addition Lucas Cashmore.

Super Rugby Pacific 2024: All the New Zealand-based squads, major gains and losses | Stuff.co.nz

The departure of Laulala has been offset by the recruitment of former test prop Angus Ta’avao to slot in as likely starting tighthead prop, while Tuivasa-Sheck’s return to the 13-man code leaves Plummer and Bryce Heem to duel for the No 12 role.

The squad features four other new forwards (Josh Beehre, Laghlan McWhannell, PJ Sheck and James Thompson) and a quartet of first-time backs (Kade Banks, Lucas Cashmore, Cole Forbes and Meihana Grindlay).

The Blues have not won the full Super Rugby competition since 2003, and were beaten semifinalists and finalists the last two seasons under MacDonald.

Blues squad:-

Props: Joshua Fusitu’a, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, PJ Sheck, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tu’ungafasi.

Hookers: Kurt Eklund, Ricky Riccitelli, Soane Vikena.

Locks: Josh Beehre, Sam Darry, Laghlan McWhannell, James Thompson, Patrick Tuipulotu.

Loose forwards: Adrian Choat, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali’i, Rob Rush, Anton Segner, Hoskins Sotutu, Cameron Suafoa.

Halfbacks: Finlay Christie, Sam Nock, Taufa Funaki.

First-fives: Stephen Perofeta, Lucas Cashmore.

Midfielders: Corey Evans, Rieko Ioane, Bryce Heem, Meihana Grindlay, Harry Plummer.

Outside backs: Kade Banks, Caleb Clarke, Cole Forbes, AJ Lam, Zarn Sullivan, Caleb Tangitau, Mark Tele’a.

Major gains: Laghlan McWhannell (Chiefs), Angus Ta’avao (Chiefs), Lucas Cashmore (Bay of Plenty).

Major losses: Beauden Barrett (Toyota Verblitz, Japan), Alex Hodgman (Queensland Reds), Nepo Laulala (Toulouse, France), James Lay (Moana Pasifika), Tom Robinson (Toyota Verblitz, Japan), Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (NZ Warriors, NRL).

Super Rugby Pacific 2024: All the New Zealand-based squads, major gains and losses | Stuff.co.nz

MOANA PASIFIKA

As many as 20 new players have been named in the Moana Pasifika squad for the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.

Along with the influx of newcomers, the Tana Umaga-coached squad retain some familiar faces.

Former Wallabies prop Sekope Kepu, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, is going around again at the age of 37, while 36-year-old playmaker and fellow Wallaby Christian Lealiifano is also lacing up the boots again.

Their major signings were already announced: former All Blacks winger Julian Savea, former Blues prop James Lay and former Waratahs prop Sateki Late.

There are 19 players in the squad who played in this year’s World Cup, and 11 Super Rugby debutants in all.

Loose forward Miracle Faiilagi, who was picked up from a combine before last season, is back after an impressive first Super Rugby campaign and will be looking to kick on.

A major loss is midfielder Levi Aumua, who has moved to the Crusaders, which puts the onus on Danny Toala who is back for a third season.

Moana Pasifika squad:-

Props: Abraham Pole, Donald Brighthouse, James Lay, Sateki Latu, Sekope Kepu, Suetena Asomua.

Hookers: Samiueka Moli, Sama Malolo, Tomasi Maka.

Locks: Irie Papuni, Ofa Tauatevalu, Samuel Slade, Tom Savage, Viliami Napa’a.

Loose forwards: Alamanda Motuga, Lotu Inisi, Miracle Faiilagi, Ola Tauelangi, Semisi Paea, Sione Havili Talitui, Solomone Funaki.

Halfbacks: Aisea Halo, Ereatara Enari, Jonathan Taumateine.

First-fives: Christian Lealiifano, William Havili.

Midfielders: D’Angelo Leuila, Fine Inisi, Henry Taefu, Lalomilo Lalomilo, Pepesana Patafilo.

Outside backs: Anzelo Tuitavuki, Danny Toala, Julian Savea, Neria Fomai, Nigel Ah Wong

Otumaka Mausia, Viliami Fine.

Major gains: Julian Savea (Hurricanes), James Lay (Blues), Sateki Late (Waratahs).

Major losses: Levi Aumua (Crusaders).

Super Rugby Pacific 2024: All the New Zealand-based squads, major gains and losses | Stuff.co.nz

CHIEFS

Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan says their younger players are ready step into the shoes of departed All Blacks such as Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick (both Japan), Brad Weber and Pita Gus Sowakula (both France).

He has not yet decided who will be the new captain, but the leading candidates are Luke Jacobson, Anton Lienert-Brown and maybe Damian McKenzie.

Among the players in their 2024 squad on full-time contracts for the first time are Waikato outside back Liam Coombes-Fabling, who was a builder, Taranaki loose forward Tom Florence, Auckland prop Sione Ahio, Counties Manukau prop Kauvaka Kaivelata and Waikato loose forward Malachi Wrampling-Alec.

Another new signing is former Blues and Crusaders lock Jimmy Tupou, while playmaker Kaleb Trask returns after one season in Japan.

All Blacks midfielder Quinn Tupea will be in the picture again after recovering from a serious knee injury.

McMillan confirmed that All Blacks winger Emoni Narawa should return to play next season after a back injury ruled him out of the Rugby World Cup in France.

One-test All Blacks playmaker Josh Ioane is recovering from a broken wrist but should also be fit for the start of pre-season.

The Chiefs topped the table last season but lost the final in Hamilton against the Crusaders, 25-20. A rematch of that decider is next season’s opening match on February 23.

Chiefs squad:-

Props: Sione Ahio, George Dyer, Kauvaka Kaivelata, Ollie Norris, Reuben O’Neill, Jared Proffit, Aidan Ross.

Hookers: Bradley Slater, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tyrone Thompson.

Locks: Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Josh Lord, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Tupou Vaa’i, Jimmy Tupou.

Loose forwards: Kaylum Boshier, Samipeni Finau, Tom Florence, Luke Jacobson, Simon Parker, Wallace Sititi, Malachi Wrampling-Alec.

Halfbacks: Cortez Ratima, Xavier Roe, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

First-fives: Josh Ioane, Damian McKenzie, Kaleb Trask.

Midfielders: Anton Lienert-Brown, Rameka Poihipi, Daniel Rona, Quinn Tupaea, Gideon Wrampling.

Outside backs: Liam Coombes-Fabling, Peniasi Malimali, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Emoni Narawa, Shaun Stevenson.

Major gains: Jimmy Tupou (Japan), Kaleb Trask (Japan).

Major losses: Angus Ta’avao (Blues), Atu Moli (Western Force), John Ryan (Ireland), Brodie Retallick (Japan), Pita Gus Sowakula (France), Sam Cane (Japan), Brad Weber (France), Bryn Gatland (Japan), Alex Nankivell (Ireland).

Super Rugby Pacific 2024: All the New Zealand-based squads, major gains and losses | Stuff.co.nz

The return of former captain and England No 8 Brad Shields – announced midway through the previous campaign – was the most notable of the eight new Hurricanes signings. His experience will be crucial with world player of the year Ardie Savea taking up a sabbatical with Kobelco Steelers in Japan next year.

Former Highlanders, Crusaders and Chiefs winger Ngatungane Punivai has been brought home to provide cover following Julian Savea’s switch to Moana Pasifika, while journeyman Richard Judd will back up Cam Roigard and TJ Perenara in the hotly contested halfback position.

Perenara will feel like a new signing after he missed the entire 2023 campaign with an Achilles injury.

The biggest shake-up in a fairly settled Hurricanes squad under new coach Clark Laidlaw has come at lock. Former All Black Dom Bird and James Blackwell have departed and been replaced by former Blues player James Tucker and Super Rugby rookies Ben Grant and Josh Taula.

Veteran hooker Dane Coles’ retirement has opened the door for Wellington’s James O’Reilly to come back into the squad and he has been joined by Lions teammate Siale Luaki, who fills the void left by Owen Franks’s departure.

Loose forwards Reed Prinsep and Tyler Laubscher have both moved on after injury-plagued 2023 campaigns.

Props: Siale Lauaki, Tyrel Lomax, Tevita Mafileo, Xavier Numia, Pouri Rakete-Stones, Pasilio Tosi.

Hookers: Asafo Aumua, Jacob Devery, James O’Reilly.

Locks: Caleb Delany, Ben Grant, Justin Sangster, Josh Taula, James Tucker, Isaia Walker-Leawere.

Loose forwards: Devan Flanders, TK Howden, Brayden Iose, Du’Plessis Kirifi, Peter Lakai, Brad Shields.

Halfbacks: Richard Judd, TJ Perenara, Cam Roigard.

First-fives: Brett Cameron, Aidan Morgan.

Midfielders: Jordie Barrett, Riley Higgins, Billy Proctor, Bailyn Sullivan, Peter Umaga-Jensen.

Outside backs: Harry Godfrey, Ruben Love, Josh Moorby, Kini Naholo, Ngatungane Punivai, Salesi Rayasi, Daniel Sinkinson.

Major gains: James Tucker (Blues), Ngatungane Punivai (Chiefs), Brad Shields (Perpignan).

Major losses: Dom Bird, James Blackwell (Hanazono Kintetsu Liners), Jamie Booth, Dane Coles (Kubota Spears), Owen Franks, Reed Prinsep, Ardie Savea (Kobelco Kobe Steelers), Julian Savea (Moana Pasifika).

All Blacks rake Codie Taylor’s decision to take a non-playing sabbatical, and prop Oli Jager’s late request for a release from his contract, means the reigning champions’ squad isn’t yet finalised.

Fresh from playing big minutes for the All Blacks, Taylor has utilised a clause in his contract and will miss the majority of the regular season, before likely returning in time for the final couple of games before the playoffs.

Jager, who hails from Ireland, approached the Crusaders in recent days with his request, citing his desire to chase an opportunity elsewhere, likely in the northern hemisphere.

As a result, new coach Rob Penney, whose first squad in charge includes 10 players not contracted last season, will add another prop in the coming weeks.

Among the newly contracted players is hooker Ioane Moananu, who featured this year and joins fellow rakes George Bell and Brodie McAlister with Taylor taking an extended break.

With centre Braydon Ennor ruled out for the entire season with a knee injury, Penney named five specialist midfielders, including the uncapped Jone Rova.

Super Rugby Pacific: Hurricanes squad Savea-less for the first time since 2010 | Stuff.co.nz

Crusaders squad:-

Props: Joe Moody, Finlay Brewis, George Bower, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell.

Hookers: Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister, George Bell, Ioane Moananu.

Locks: Scott Barrett (capt), Quinten Strange, Tahlor Cahill, Zach Gallagher, Jamie Hannah.

Loose forwards: Ethan Blackadder, Cullen Grace, Tom Christie, Christian Lio-Willie, Corey Kellow, Dominic Gardiner.

Halfbacks: Noah Hotham, Mitchell Drummond, Willi Heinz.

First-fives: Fergus Burke, Taha Kemara, Rivez Reihana.

Midfielders: David Havili, Dallas McLeod, Levi Aumua, Ryan Crotty, Jone Rova.

Outside backs: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Macca Springer, Manasa Mataele, Chay Fihaki, Leigh Halfpenny, Heremaia Murray.

Major gains: Levi Aumua (Moana Pasifika), Ryan Crotty (Kubota), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), Rivez Reihana (Chiefs), Manasa Mataele (Force).

Major losses: Sam Whitelock (Pau), Richie Mo’unga (Toshiba), Jack Goodhue (Castres Olympique), Leicester Fainga’anuku (Toulon), Sione Havili Talitui (Moana Pasifika).

HIGHLANDERS

Blues midfielder Tanielu Tele’a, Otago hooker Ricky Jackson and Southland’s Matt Whaanga secured the final spots in a Highlanders squad notable for its youth.

Tele’a’s career has been hit hard by injuries so far, but he is still only 25 and the Highlanders will be hoping he adds punch to the midfield, with Thomas Umaga-Jensen unavailable for the entire campaign due to a knee injury.

The Highlanders had already announced the majority of their squad, with Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Timoci Tavatavanawai and former Wales No 10 Rhys Patchell key additions.

Youngsters Jack Taylor, Hayden Michaels, Oliver Haig, Nathan Hastie, Ajay Faleafaga and Jake Te Hiwi earn their first full contracts after coming through the Highlanders’ increasingly fruitful high-performance program.

The Highlanders are still hopeful that new lock Mitchell Dunshea can play some part in the campaign as he recovers from an Achilles injury, and haven’t yet listed an injury replacement for the 27-year-old.

Super Rugby Pacific: 2024 New Zealand-based squads - who's in and who's out? - NZ Herald

Highlanders squad:-

Props: Jermaine Ainsley, Ethan de Groot, Luca Inch, Ayden Johnstone, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u.

Hookers: Henry Bell, Ricky Jackson, Jack Taylor.

Locks: Mitchell Dunshea, Fabian Holland, Pari Pari Parkinson, Will Tucker.

Loose forwards: Nikora Broughton, Oliver Haig, Billy Harmon, Max Hicks, Hayden Michaels, Hugh Renton, Tom Sanders, Sean Withy.

Halfbacks: James Arscott, Folau Fakatava, Nathan Hastie.

First-fives: Ajay Faleafaga, Cameron Millar, Rhys Patchell.

Midfielders: Jake Te Hiwi, Tanielu Tele’a, Josh Timu, Matt Whaanga.

Outside backs: Martin Bogado, Connor Garden-Bachop, Sam Gilbert, Jonah Lowe, Jona Nareki, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Timoci Tavatavanawai.

Major gains: Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens (Blues), Timoci Tavatavanawai (Moana Pasifika), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets, Wales), Tanielu Tele’a (Blues), Tom Sanders (Suntory Sungoliath).

Major losses: Aaron Smith (Toyota Verblitz), Shannon Frizell (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Josh Dickson (Toyota Verblitz), Mitch Hunt (Honda Heat), Marino Mikaele-Tu’u (Mitsubishi DynaBoars).

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