Super Rugby: Australian sides will challenge New Zealand, says Andrew Mehrtens

The gap in quality between New Zealand and Australian Super Rugby isn't as large as Kiwis would have you believe, according to former All Black turned pundit Andrew Mehrtens.

After Super Rugby's trans-Tasman aspect was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, fans have been waiting on this year's hybrid competition - consisting of the respective sides of Super Rugby Aotearoa and Super Rugby AU - to determine where bragging rights truly lie.

In recent memory, Australian sides have struggled to match their New Zealand counterparts - famously going 40 matches across three separate seasons from 2017 to 2019 - 

Now working as an analyst for Australia's Channel Nine and Stan Sport, Mehrtens says he doesn't go along with any notion of Kiwi superiority.

"I don't often buy into the debate over whether the New Zealand game is better," Mehrtens writes in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"But, for argument's sake, let's discuss. If a New Zealand team stepped onto the field against any Australian outfit, that doesn't automatically mean they'd come up trumps.

"This side of the ditch we've become force fed the idea that New Zealand rugby is better, which befuddles me. I don't subscribe to the theory that every game at the moment would be a futile exercise and lead to another drubbing at the hands of the Kiwis.

"On the surface, New Zealand rugby can appear more exciting and lethal. I don't think that's necessarily the case because all five New Zealand teams employ a reasonably similar game style.

"When they play each other, they know intimately how New Zealand teams play and their dynamic is based around that. They get used to that style. So when the tempo of the game changes and the style of play changes, I don't necessarily think you can say that one is vastly more effective than the other."

Mehrtens asserted his belief even further, stating that the four-time defending champion Crusaders wouldn't have things their own way against current Australian leaders, the Brumbies.

"Heading into this weekend's matches, the Brumbies and Crusaders were on top of their competitions," he continued. 

"I believe if they played five matches over the next five weekends, the Crusaders wouldn't be victorious in all five."

Super Rugby Trans-Tasman is currently scheduled to begin in May, taking place over five rounds between the ten sides, before the first and second placed finishers play off in a final.