How will Thorn react to wayward Reds; Should Aussie competition include Sunwolves?

Cruden ready for extra spice of New Zealand derbies every week (0:52)

Chiefs fly-half Aaron Cruden opens up about the upcoming return to Super Rugby in New Zealand. (0:52)

We're edging closer to some actual rugby being played, with the countdown on to New Zealand's Super Rugby Aotearoa competition.

But the lack of on-field action doesn't mean there is a shortage of talking points across the game.

Our rugby writers, Sam Bruce and Brittany Mitchell, catch up with some of the bigger issues below.


Sam Bruce: Everyone has the right to look after their own best interests during the current coronavirus pandemic. That is their decision. But to make this call, from within a Reds squad that appears to have otherwise completely bought in to Brad Thorn's team-first environment no less, while 189 other professional Australian rugby players have signed on ... sheesh. You've got to wonder what kind of management advice this trio have been getting, particularly given reports they were surprised at the level of public outcry their decision generated. Outspoken former Reds fullback Greg Martin, for one, certainly didn't miss. I just don't see how this ends well for either Izack Rodda, Isaac Lucas or Harry Hockings, other than that they move overseas and put their Wallabies hopes on hold for the foreseeable future. How can their Reds teammates welcome them back into the fold when they have agreed to the pay cuts and have got on with the job of preparing for the mooted domestic Australian Super Rugby competition? They'd be well served by having a chat with James O'Connor, who, at a similar age, made some curious career decisions that he only really recovered from last year. It's hugely disappointing for the Reds and Australian rugby on the whole; just when the worst of the political infighting had stopped and we were edging closer to talking about some actual rugby, Rodda, Lucas and Hockings have ensured the game has generated negative headlines for at least another week. Thorn has every right to feel let down.

Brittany Mitchell: If there's one thing people can agree on when it comes to Brad Thorn it's that he's a hardnosed, no nonsense kind of guy. To have three of his most talented players break ranks and shun not just their club, but the 189 other professional Australian rugby players, will be a hard pill for Thorn to swallow. Perhaps Izack Rodda's decision wasn't so surprising; he was left deeply upset when Thorn overlooked him for the Reds captaincy. But for Harry Hockings and Isaac Lucas to dissent, you can theorise they've been given an almighty bum steer by management. It's understandable in these confusing times to seek advice, especially at just 21 years of age, but while it may have seemed like a daunting pay cut perhaps they should have thought of the many in rugby's administration who sacrificed more than just a pay cut. It's hard to imagine Rodda will ever pull on a Reds jersey again, and perhaps he doesn't want to based on his latest actions. But for Hockings and Lucas, who are so early in their careers and are no doubt future Wallabies, this could set them adrift. For their sake I'd hope Thorn could forgive them, help them understand what their decision means not just for the team but Australian rugby, and then give them a chance to right their course. Perhaps they should look towards James O'Connor and the crazy career he's embarked on after the poor decisions he made at their age.


SB: I couldn't be more excited for this competition; it just ticks all the boxes. I mean who wouldn't want to watch New Zealand's best rugby players face each other week in, week out, for 10 straight rounds, at the family-friendly kick-offs of 3 and 5pm [NZT] with the country's two best players back up and running? It really has it all. This, to me, could really be the finest domestic rugby we've ever seen. We're all aware Super Rugby has fallen away in recent times but the New Zealand derbies have ensured the competition has retained at least some of its integrity. The Crusaders-Chiefs clashes from the early part of the last decade were beauties, before the Hurricanes and Highlanders joined the party; the Wellington-based franchise playing out some absolute humdingers with Scott Robertson's side over the past three years in particular. Now we get to enjoy them exclusively! It also gives the Highlanders a chance to reboot, with the addition of Nehe Milner-Skudder, while the Blues park their impressive start to the Super Rugby season and begin again...with Beauden Barrett. What more could you ask for!

BM: There's plenty to like about New Zealand's new Aotearoa competition, including just the simple fact that it means rugby is back!

Super Rugby Aotearoa brings together all five New Zealand Super Rugby sides for what is sure to be a humdinger of a two-month competition. New Zealand derby matches generally bring out the best of the Super Rugby competition; the games are fast-paced, the ball is constantly in play and we get treated to some champagne rugby. The return of some of New Zealand's biggest names including Beauden Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Sam Whitelock only makes the competition more exciting. With just a four-week countdown until kick-off on June 13 my biggest challenge will be choosing a side to root for!


SB: If it can be done with a minimum of fuss, then I say let's keep the Sunwolves engaged. Not only are there are a number of Australian players in their squad who will otherwise be out of a job, but I think it is hugely important that Australia retains some sort of relationship with Japanese rugby; and I know the Sunwolves have almost become the ugly stepsister outlier in their own land. But who can forget the support they generated last season in Tokyo, and that which had turned up earlier this year, too? I know they won't have the chance to play at home in this Australian competition, but their inclusion would see three games every week -- providing the Force are also involved -- which could be dropped into prime time television slots across Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and naturally run off the back of New Zealand's Aotearoa. The Sunwolves, too, could emerge as a key strategic partner for Rugby Australia moving forward, too, with the future of Super Rugby and SANZAAR anything but certain.

BM: I like the Sunwolves. I was disappointed to hear of their axing from the competition last year, and it was disheartening to realise their clash against the Crusaders in Brisbane in front of a minuscule crowd could potentially be their last Super Rugby match ever. But, I'm sorry Sunwolves, I'd prefer Rugby Australia got a domestic competition underway sooner rather than later, which would surely mean no Sunwolves involvement. We've already seen the crazy logistics involved with moving an overseas based team across to Australia. The New Zealand Warriors made the decision to base themselves in Tamworth and now the Gold Coast in order to take part in the NRL season. They've had to undergo two weeks of quarantine and now face the possibility of calling up development players or playing players out of position due to their injury crisis. With borders around Australia still closed, RA already faces several logistical issues in simply involving the Western Force in the competition. The logistics to bring a team across from Japan could mean extra weeks of discussions and Government approvals, meanwhile sporting codes across Australia will be well underway.