Wellington Super Rugby side the Hurricanes have announced their playing squad for the 2018 Super Rugby season which kicks off for the team in February with a match in Pretoria against the Bulls.
There are eleven new faces including three Super Rugby rookies and a Wallaby test prop in the squad for the 2018 Super Rugby season.
New All Blacks hooker Asafo Aumua and his Wellington teammates, prop Alex Fidow and lock Isaia Walker-Leawere make up a freshman class small in numbers, but big in size.
Aumua (108kg) and Fidow (137kg) cut a swathe through defences during the Mitre 10 Cup with the Aumua’s form so compelling that he was called up to the All Blacks for their Northern tour.
Walker-Leawere, a 1.97m, 122kg product of Gisborne Boys High School, was stamping a similar mark before cutting his provincial season short to have shoulder surgery.
Aumua, Fidow and Walker-Leawere were all members of the New Zealand Under 20s side in 2017 and represent a core of young players who have come through from within the Hurricanes region.
Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd said he was pleased with the mix of youth and experience through his squad.
“It’s always pleasing when a group of young players emerge into the Hurricanes from within our geographical region and I think it’s also notable that Ihaia West and Gareth Evans, both from Hawke’s Bay, have returned to their home clubs for Super Rugby.
“I think we have a talented group of younger players, but as always experience is a key quality in any successful side and our culture will again be built around the leadership of our captain Dane Coles and the other senior players who drive that within the group.”
Those senior players include six-cap Wallaby prop Toby Smith, a two-time Super Rugby champion with the Chiefs before heading across the Tasman to join the Melbourne Rebels.
“To bring in a player with nearly 100 Super Rugby caps and the experience of a Rugby World Cup campaign with Australia can only be good for our group,” Boyd said. “I think it’s a good sign that we the Hurricanes are attracting that calibre of players and I’m sure Toby will add a lot to the group in 2018.”
There are also eleven 2017 All Blacks in the squad including the halves pairing of TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett.
In addition to the established stars and Super Rugby rookies there is a cast of players coming into the Hurricanes squad for the first time.
That group include the previously unannounced, but experienced, trio of Scottish-born Melbourne Rebels lock Murray Douglas and Counties-Manukau openside Sam Henwood, and Manawatu halfback Jamie Booth.
Booth, a member of the Hurricanes wider training squad in 2015, becomes the third halfback contracted after Tasman halfback Finlay Christie and Perenara, who recently inked a new four-year deal.
Douglas, a 1.97m, 28-year-old lock, started his career with the Heriots Rugby Club in Edinburgh before heading down under. He made his Super Rugby debut for the Melbourne Rebels earlier this year, then impressed for Northland during the Mitre 10 Cup.
Henwood, 26, made his provincial debut for Auckland way back in 2011 before injuries stalled his progress on the field, but not off it.
After completing a degree in Business and Computer Science he resumed his rugby career with Counties-Manukau in 2014 and spent several off-seasons playing professionally in Portugal before making his Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs, in 2016.
They join the previously announced signings of Wellington first five Jackson Garden-Bachop, Hawke’s Bay pivot Ihaia West, and former Highlanders loose forward Evans.
There are three other uncapped Super Rugby players in the 38-man squad although the Wellington duo of midfielder Peter Umaga-Jensen and first five TJ Va’a, and Hawke’s Bay outside back Jonah Lowe, were all members of the 2017 Hurricanes squad.
The Hurricanes Super Rugby season begins in Pretoria against the Bulls on February 25 and includes eight home matches against the Crusaders, Highlanders, Sharks (in Napier), Chiefs, Sunwolves, Lions, Reds and Blues.
The 2018 Hurricanes Super Rugby squad is:
Halfbacks: Jamie Booth (Manawatu)*, Finlay Christie (Tasman)*, TJ Perenara (Wellington).
First fives: Beauden Barrett (Taranaki), Jackson Garden-Bachop (Wellington)*, TJ Va’a (Wellington), Ihaia West (Hawke’s Bay)*.
Midfield: Vince Aso (Auckland), Ngani Laumape (Manawatu), Matt Proctor (Wellington), Peter Umaga-Jensen (Wellington).
Outside Backs: Jordie Barrett (Taranaki), Wes Goosen (Wellington), Ben Lam (Wellington), Jonah Lowe (Hawke’s Bay), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Manawatu), Julian Savea (Wellington).
Hookers: Asafo Aumua (Wellington)*, Dane Coles (Wellington), Ricky Riccitelli (Taranaki).
Props: Chris Eves (North Harbour), Alex Fidow (Wellington)*, Reg Goodes (Wellington), Ben May (Hawke’s Bay), Toby Smith (Waikato)*, Jeffery To’omaga-Allen (Wellington).
Locks: James Blackwell (Wellington), Murray Douglas (Northland)*, Michael Fatialofa (Auckland), Sam Lousi (Wellington), Isaia Walker-Leawere (Wellington)*.
Loose Forwards: Gareth Evans (Hawke’s Bay)*, Vaea Fifita (Wellington), Sam Henwood (Counties-Manukau)*, Reed Prinsep (Canterbury), Ardie Savea (Wellington), Brad Shields (Wellington), Blade Thomson (Taranaki).