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Created by Otaki carver Bill Doyle, the trophy represents the coming together of the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders and Highlanders in the wake of the disruption and turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa, which translates to Stand As One New Zealand, will be on display at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch tomorrow for the Crusaders match against the Hurricanes before heading north to Eden Park for the Blues-Chiefs match on Sunday afternoon.
Carved out of totara, the Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa base represents an upturned waka. The traditional pounamu mere mounted on top signifies the strength and unity rugby has shown to create Super Rugby Aotearoa and bring the rugby community back together.
NZR Kaihautu Luke Crawford said the name of the trophy derived from a Māori whakaaro (thought) coined while the country was in lockdown.
"That thought spoke to Noho Tawhiti, which means to stay apart, but also Tū Kōtahi, which means do things together. As a country we needed to stay separated, but still be in this together to fight Covid-19.
"The bigger concept around it was the value rugby has had in providing a platform for the country to reunite post lockdown… so that was the korero, Noho Tawhiti Tū Kōtahi.
"In the context of Super Rugby Aotearoa it's fitting that we say 'Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa' or 'Stand As One New Zealand', which is what the five clubs, the fans and the rugby community are doing in 2020."
Watch: The story behind the Super Rugby Aotearoa trophy
Crawford said the trophy was intentionally rooted in humility (Whakaititanga), with the pounamu and accompanying taura (rope), repurposed from those normally presented to players for reaching 100 Investec Super Rugby Caps.
"It has been a difficult time for many with job losses and economic impact, so it needed to be humble but still meaningful and authentic and also to serve as a maumaharatanga, or memory, of this time. 'Ahakoa he iti he pounamu' - 'It is humble but it is precious'."
Doyle said he was "honoured" to be asked to create the trophy, which was designed in consultation with Te Wānanga o Raukawa master-carver Jason Hina.
The designs in the wood were puhoro, traditional Māori leg tattoo, and unanahi, which represent the scales of a fish.
"The unanahi represent Tangaroa [the Māori God of the sea]. They represent protection [for the waka during its journey]. The puhoro represents speed and balance and deception and everything you would have in a game of rugby."
The trophy has a special rugby connection for Doyle, whose son Sam (Ngāti Raukawa) was an original member of the Hurricanes in 1996, played fullback for the Māori All Blacks against the 1993 British and Irish Lions and represented Manawatu and Wellington.
After five rounds, the Crusaders have 18 points, with the Blues on 13, Hurricanes 12 and Highlanders 10, while the Chiefs are the only team out of contention for the trophy with just four points.