ITM Cup Round 1 starts on Thursday night with the opening round likely to feature several upsets. All teams have been playing some kind of warm up matches, but it is difficult to know how much to read into these results.
It is also difficult to know how teams will go without their All Blacks for most of the competition. Rugby goes from famine to feast with both ITM Cup and the Rugby Championship starting this weekend.
You do notice the gulf in standards between the two though! ITM Cup Round 1 is usually a mixed bag with some really scrappy games. Who are you picking to win in the ITM Cup Round 1?
There are some mouth-watering clashes in ITM Cup Round 1.
The Waikato vs Northland Ranfurly Shield challenge will be Northland's best chance to win the Log of Wood in years.
It will take the top teams plenty of time to get into gear with the finals their main aim. The thought of the Rupeni and Rene show for Northland is an exciting prospect and the incentive of the Ranfurly Shield could inspire them, but I am picking Waikato to just win a close one.
I think Taranaki, Tasman, Counties-Manukau and Otago could also pick up wins over more fancied opponents, but I am only picking two of these teams to actually pick up a win.
Counties-Manukau is my pick for an upset in Round 1. They blew the Stags away in Round 1 last season and will be the surprise package of the ITM Cup Premiership after an impressive season in 2012.
I am also picking an improving Otago team to beat Bay of Plenty on Sunday.
Northland will be the surprise package of the Championship assuming Rene and Rupeni stay injury free.
Tasman have been impressive in pre-season and could topple the Southland Stags in Round 1 who were poor during pre-season, but I have to pick the Stags as they are my team and they are at home.
Auckland and Hawkes Bay should pick up wins.
Manawatu will miss their All Blacks, the two Aarons.
Who are you picking to win in ITM Cup Round 1 2013? Who is your team playing and how will they go?
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Scott Donaldson, author of www.superrugbytips.com