The first round of Super Rugby Aotearoa is set to get underway on 13 June with the first game offering a mouth-watering personal clash between fly-halves Josh Ioane and Aaron Cruden, of the Highlanders and Chiefs respectively.
Before the suspension of the tournament, the Highlanders were last in the New Zealand conference and the Chiefs third. The break from rugby would have come as somewhat of a relief for the Highlanders who were not at their usual form, winning only one game out of 6.
Conversely, the Chiefs were looking strong with 4 wins from 6 outings.
Despite their poor run of form, it cannot be denied that the Highlanders have in their possession a very useful, talismanic weapon in the form of Josh Ioane at first receiver. The 24 year old received has been capped 23 times with the men from Otago and, last year, received his first All Black cap, coming on as a substitute in the second half for Beauden Barrett.
Ioane has a skill set beyond his years and displays a hunger and natural instinct for innovative play. His slight build is not enough to deter him from taking the ball up to the line and setting up backs and forwards alike to pierce gaps in defence. In addition to this, his goal-kicking is accurate and one can only expect it to improve with time. On defence, the youngster is courageous and is not one to duck tackles, even with much bigger forwards charging into his channel.
Lining up opposite Ioane, Chiefs pivot Aaron Cruden needs little introduction. Almost identical in height and weight as his opponent, Cruden enjoys significant advantage in terms of experience with 118 Super Rugby caps under the belt and 50 caps for the All Blacks.
Cruden is a complete fly-half who is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Calm, smart and opportunistic, he utilises his commanding presence in a game to dictate its passage. An area where he seems to be one-up on Ioane would be his kicking game.
Cruden is very competent on either left or right foot and countless hours of training have fuelled his pin-point accuracy off the boot.
All in all, the much anticipated first game of Super Rugby Aotearoa is shaping up to be a great contest with both teams well-rested and eager to take the field. Ioane will no doubt see the match as an opportunity to prove himself against an All Black stalwart while the latter will be looking to unleash his skills once again to systematically dismantle his opposition.