All Black's Super Rugby Aotearoa player to watch
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: There are less than 24 hours until fans across New Zealand will know who exactly has been named in their Super Rugby squads for the upcoming campaign next year.
All five franchises – the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders – will announce their playing groups for the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competitions on Thursday.
As is the case every year, Super Signing Day brings with it plenty of hype and anticipation surrounding the new additions each team has made to their side.
Those new signings are soon thrust into the spotlight, with assessments made around the country as to how each team has fared in what is essentially rugby’s transfer market.
From those assessments come predictions about how well each of the new players will perform, with some considered good enough for future All Blacks selection.
However, on the eve of this year’s Super Signing Day, a former All Black has weighed in on which up-and-coming player he believes could have a standout season in 2021 – and it’s a player who has already featured for the national side this year.
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, two-test All Blacks hooker James Parsons has projected young loose forward Cullen Grace to standout yet again for the Crusaders following his impressive debut Super Rugby season in 2020.
The 20-year-old was impressive for the Super Rugby juggernauts in both the pre and post-COVID competitions, helping the Crusaders to the Super Rugby Aotearoa crown, their fourth consecutive title.
Capable of playing in multiple positions within the forward pack, it was at blindside flank where Grace flourished throughout the season, shining as a strong lineout option and a hard-hitting defender.
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Despite missing much of the Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign through injury, Grace’s efforts were rewarded with an All Blacks call-up in September on the basis of his test-level potential.
Sparingly used throughout the Bledisloe Cup series and Tri-Nations, Grace was handed his only All Blacks appearance of the year in a two-minute cameo off the bench during the 24-22 defeat to the Wallabies in Brisbane last month.
Parsons said the best is yet to come from the youngster, though, noting he could still challenge for a place in New Zealand’s loose forward mix if he continues his good form for the Crusaders next year.
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“He’s had a really strong year,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod of Grace when asked which player to look out for in 2021.
“Couple of injuries probably slowed him down a little bit, and he managed to slip into the ABs, but that loose forward trio spot’s becoming hot property at the moment.
“I think if he can back it up with a really good year, because he won’t be unknown going into this Super Rugby Aotearoa, and then obviously with Aussie as well, so it’s a big year for him to back it up when everyone will be watching tape and judging from what they saw last year.
“He’s definitely a raw talent and he’s only going to get better with age, but I think another season under his belt, he could be a real force in that loose forward trio.”
Having signed a contract extension through until 2023, Grace will be named in Scott Robertson’s Crusaders squad when it is announced on Thursday, along with the squads of the other four franchises.