Writing for IOL Sport, Mark Keohane selects three Kiwis and three Australians set for big 2020 Super Rugby seasons.
Aaron Cruden (Chiefs)
Cruden left New Zealand for Montpellier two seasons ago and it proved a disaster. He struggled with form, injury and being away from New Zealand. He is back at the franchise where he won two Super Rugby titles and is expected to prosper under the guidance of former Wales coach Warren Gatland. Cruden will start the tournament opener against the Blues from the bench. If the Chiefs are to make the playoffs, Cruden, at flyhalf, will be one of the main reasons why.
Richie Mo’unga (Crusaders)
Mo’unga finished 2019 as the All Blacks’ starting flyhalf in the third/fourth playoff at the World Cup. He was sensational for the Crusaders in winning a third successive title. Mo’unga will be critical to an unprecedented fourth title in four seasons for the Crusaders. Mo’unga is recognised as the most accurate goalkicker in New Zealand rugby and while his attacking game has always drawn praise, his defence has improved immeasurably.
Josh Ioane (Highlanders)
No relation to Blues brothers Rieko and Akira, the young flyhalf/centre could be the Ioane that makes the greatest impact this season. Rieko has to reinvent himself and Akira has one last chance to turn potential into permanency when it comes to the All Black selectors, but it is the young Josh who can make this season his breakthrough one. He enjoyed an exciting 2019, which resulted in a Test debut against Tonga, before the World Cup. He is primarily a flyhalf, but Highlanders coach and former All Black Aaron Mauger will also play him at inside centre.
James O’Connor (Reds)
O’Connor was once Australia’s golden boy, having made his Super Rugby debut as a 17-year-old and his Test debut as an 18-year-old. His father is from New Zealand and his mother from South Africa, so he could have qualified for either country, but he always only wanted the Wallabies jersey. He blossomed in his early years, but several off-field controversies forced him overseas. He returned to Australian rugby in 2019 and if anyone can find the magic in O’Connor it will be Reds coach and former All Black and Kangaroo iron man Brad Thorn.
Karmichael Hunt (Waratahs)
Hunt has moved from the Reds to the Waratahs and this is the year in which he will do his talking on the field. Hunt was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia as a 11-year-old. He made his rugby league debut in 2004 and won Rookie of the Year. He won a grand final in 2006 and he played for Queensland in the State of Origin and the Kangaroos. He then played AFL for four years and switched to union in 2015. He made his Test debut in 2017, but his career in last two years have been plagued with off-field controversies and suspensions.
Jordan Petaia (Reds)
Petaia is a class above any other teenager in Australian rugby. He can play fullback, wing and in the midfield, and made his Test debut in 2019. If he remains injury-free he could play for the Wallabies for the next decade, with the midfield probably where his future will be. He is a wonderful attacking player and a rarity among the Super Rugby elite to have been born in this century. Former Australia coach Michael Cheika described Petaia as a jewel when he first invited him to train with the Wallabies in 2018. A year later, Cheika picked the teenager to debut against Uruguay at the World Cup. He scored his first Test try with his second touch of the ball.