The 2013 ITM Cup comes to its conclusion this weekend as both the Premiership and Championship competitions are decided.
New Zealand giants Wellington and Canterbury clash in the Premiership final on Saturday in Wellington, after Tasman face Hawke’s Bay in the Championship final tomorrow night.
Both games look set to be much closer than all of the ITM Cup semi-finals last week, where three of the four games were won by a margin of 21 points or more.
Wellington have their best chance to win the title since the 2000 season. They require a repeat victory of the 25-19 round robin victory over Canterbury. However, they do not get the luxury of a returning phalanx of All Black internationals.
On the other hand Canterbury have won five titles in a row and are allowed to play five of their returning All Blacks squad memebers.
Wellington have a good chance, but its sure going to be tough.
Talking Rugby Union’s New Zealand correspondent Scotty Donaldson added that “Wellington has a habit of choking in finals and although the home team Wellington Lions are the favourites at the bookies, many locals don't hold much hope for their team, even though the Wellington side has been impressive with plenty of fringe All Blacks.
“Canterbury on the other hand is allowed to use five of their All Blacks squad members which means they can include the likes of Tom Taylor, Luke Whitelock and Dominic Bird.
“It will be interesting to see if the ITM Cup Premiership final in Wellington draws much of a crowd. We all remember back to the 1990's when NPC finals were sold out, but in all reality the ITM Cup is now a feeder competition featuring heaps of semi-professional and amateur players.
“It is also a holiday weekend and lots of people will be leaving town for the weekend. It is possible that Tasman gets a bigger crowd for the ITM Cup Championship final despite having a smaller population.”
The final is sure to be close and we all know too well that Canterbury know how to win the big game when it counts.
In tomorrow’s Championship final Tasman face Hawke’s Bay.
Tasman have been the form team of the league, with impressive victories over a number of Premiership teams rather than scrappy results.
However, both teams would certainly be at home with promotion into the top tier next year – but unfortunately, there’s only room for one…
Hawke’s Bay beat Otago in Dunedin in last week’s semi-final, so they will provide a stiff challenge.
The Bay are filled with good players and will provide stiff opposition to Tasman.
Scotty Donaldson added that “The two first five eighths Marty Banks of Tasman and Ihaia West from Hawke's Bay have had massive seasons and with a good night at the office on Friday night, could topple Otago's Hayden Parker as the top points scorer in the ITM Cup.
“Their match up will be worth the price of admission alone.
“Tasman in many ways remind me of Counties from the ITM Cup 2012 with such a convincing season and given how Counties made the ITM Cup Premiership semi-finals and won the Ranfurly Shield this season.
“The Makos also have some newly signed Super Rugby players for the 2014 season as a result of their impressive form this season.
“My pick for the ITM Cup Championship final 2013 - Tasman by 7 points.”
Who will win the ITM Cup Premiership and Championship?
Who is your money on?
Whoever you pick, you won’t have long to wait to found out…