SUPER RUGBY: The second-act
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: It’s always incredible to witness a career of youngster blossoming, however, to see a legend manage to revitalize a career is something that can surely be appreciated.
The Super Rugby season kicks off this Friday on February 15 and we opted to look at five big names that will hope their second-act do not disappoint.
Ma’a Nonu (Blues)
One Top 14 title, three Champions Cup trophies and two World Cup titles under the belt, a Super Rugby title is about the only thing that eludes the 36-year-old’s career.
Nonu has played for three different Super Rugby franchises, Blues, Highlanders and Hurricanes, and returns to the Blues hoping to help the struggling New Zealand side out of their dismal form. Thus far the Blues have gone seven seasons without playing in the play-offs and winning record of just 35 percent since 2012.
Having last played Super Rugby in 2014, Nonu’s recent preseason performance during the Blues’ 38-31 win over the Hurricanes has proven that the midfielder is still as lethal as ever.
Whether Nonu is paired with TJ Faiane or Sonny Bill Williams, the legend certainly brings something specials to the Blues squad.
Quade Cooper (Rebels)
After a year long hiatus from Super Rugby, Quade Cooper makes his return to action with the Melbourne Rebels.
Cooper, who has 70 Test and 119 Super Rugby caps, missed last year’s Super Rugby season after being publicly axed by Reds coach Brad Thorn.
The fleet-footed 30-year-old’s return sees him reignite an old halfback partnership with Will Genia. The duo was an essential part in the Reds’ 2011 Super Rugby title success and could be a vital link for the Wallabies at the World Cup.
Nonetheless, before the prestigious event in September, Rebels head coach Dave Wessels will hope that Cooper’s presence will first reap rewards for the franchise.
Duane Vermeulen (Bulls)
This is certainly a big recruitment for the Bulls.
The robust No.8 has been on the radar of many clubs, however, the Bulls managed to lure the Springboks to Pretoria.
Vermeulen returns to South Africa after impressive seasons at Toulon and Japanese side Kubota Spears. Vermeulen last played Super Rugby back in 2015 for the Stormers, where he was one of the most consistent players during his five-year tenure.
Boasting 46 Springboks caps, the big, ball-carrying loose forward brings loads of international experience and his leadership qualities will provide support to captain Lood de Jager.
Marty Banks (Highlanders)
Following the All Blacks flyhalf Lima Sopoaga’s departure to Wasps, the Highlanders have brought back flyhalf Marty Banks.
Part of the Highlanders’ 2015 Super Rugby champions side, the 29-year-old returns to Dunedin following stints in Italy and Japan.
Banks’ experience and big-game temperament could fill the void left by Sopoaga, however strolling into the starting XV will not be as easy especially with pivot Bryn Gatland and Josh Ioane all competing for the No.10 jersey.
Adam Ashley-Cooper (Waratahs)
Despite being 34-years-old, Ashley-Cooper is determine to make the Wallabies World Cup squad for the fourth time.
Ashley-Cooper joins the Waratahs from Japan Top League side Kobe Steelers. The utility back played for the Waratahs 61 times and has 117 caps for the Wallabies international.
The veteran will bolster and help the already impressive backline containing Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale.
*Other returning impact players are the likes of Springbok hooker Schalk Brits (Bulls), All Black legend Stephen Donald (Chiefs), James Marshall (Hurricanes), and Karmichael Hunt (Waratahs).
By Leezil Hendricks