By Scott Donaldson
The ITM Cup Round 2 is here following an interesting opening round which provided insight on which teams to watch out for in the ITM Cup Premiership and Championship. The most convincing teams from last week were Wellington and Canterbury in the Premiership and Hawkes Bay and Tasman in the Championship. Will these teams continue their early form or will there be some new teams step up in ITM Cup Round 2? It is also hard to know if some of these teams had poor opposition which helped them to look good or not.
The ITM Cup Round 2 features some important matches. Otago tries to beat Waikato and win the Ranfurly Shield for the first time since 1957. Southland travels the length of the country to face Northland in a match which could decide which of these teams makes the ITM Cup Championship semi finals. Tasman and Taranaki host their bigger neighbours Canterbury and Wellington. Counties and Auckland must beat Championship teams in cross over matches.
Counties are still missing some of their stars from Super Rugby 2013, but should still be too strong for North Harbour. The Steelers were thrashed by Wellington and Tana Umaga will have had his boys hitting the tackling bags. They need to beat the lowly North Harbour if they are to have a shot at making the Premiership semi finals. North Harbour fought hard to get within seven points of Auckland last week.
Wellington were awesome against Counties last week, but it can be hard backing up such an impressive performance. Plenty will depend on which All Blacks are available for Wellington, but if they can be as impressive as they were last week then they should win easily. Taranaki got easily beaten by Canterbury and things don’t get any easier against Wellington. The Naki have some quality players, but may struggle without Beauden Barrett.
Waikato get it tough as Ranfurly Shield holders as their opposition lifts their game. Waikato had plenty of young players but still beat Northland last week. They should be too strong, but this young and well coached Otago team are improving and did well to beat Bay of Plenty last week. Waikato must beat these Championship teams if they are to be a force in the Premiership.
This Tasman vs Canterbury match could well be a banana skin. Tasman were brilliant in pre season and made the Stags look very average last week. They may struggle without a quality first five eighth, although Billy Guyton filled the void admirably last week. Canterbury were impressive last week against Taranaki, but it is hard to know how consistent this bunch of largely unknown players can be.
Southland are usually slow starters and will have their work cut out against Rene Ranger’s Northland Taniwha. Both of these teams had losses last week, but it is hard to know if it was simply because their opponents were good or if they were bad. The Stags glory days of holding the Ranfurly Shield and making the ITM Cup top division semi finals seem to be over. Playing two fellow Championship contenders so early in the season isn’t ideal for the Stags who have been slow starters in recent seasons. Northland are favourites, although it is hard to know how that will sit with them and you must remember that the Stags have far more current Super Rugby players than the Taniwha.
The battle of the bays is going to be one of the more evenly contested matches in ITM Cup Round 2. The Bay of Plenty Steamers can’t really afford to drop another game to an ITM Cup Championship team since they are in the Premiership. The Steamers lost narrowly in Dunedin which wasn’t a bad effort. Hawkes Bay beat Manawatu easily although it is hard to know if the Turbos will win any games this season.
The Manawatu Turbos host Auckland with the big city slickers overwhelming favourites. This Auckland team looks a shadow of their past strength, but should still be too strong for Manawatu who were made to look poor by Hawkes Bay last week. Auckland were far from convincing against North Harbour and may struggle to make the ITM Cup semi finals this season if they don’t win this one.
Round 1 didn’t feature as many upsets as anticipated with only Tasman’s win over Southland the only potential upset result, are you picking any upsets?
Who are you picking to win ITM Cup Rugby Round 2?
Here are my ITM Cup Round 2 Picks
Counties by 6 points
Wellington by 21 points
Waikato by 12 points
Canterbury by 7 points
Northland by 14 points
Hawkes Bay by 6 points
Auckland by 18 points
Have your say here