This weekend’s second round of the ITM Cup is fast approaching, with both Premiership and Championship competitions now in full swing.
Both Wellington and Canterbury will be looking to stand out in the Premiership, once again, after convincing victories in last week’s first round. Similarly, Hawkes Bay and Tasman are hoping to continue their early form from week one and stay at the top of the Championship table.
The second round promises a number of important clashes. Firstly, Otago compete against Waikato for the Ranfurly Shield. Waikato has held the prestigious title since October of last year; however, a win for Otago would see the club raise the trophy for the first time since 1957.
Southland journey the length of the country to play Northland in a match that could decide which of the teams progresses to the Championship semi-finals. Finally, both Tasman and Taranaki welcome imposing neighbours Canterbury and Wellington, respectively.
A weakened Counties Manukau side, with a number of players still away due to Super Rugby duty, face the Championship’s North Harbour in a must-win game, after last week’s thrashing at the hands of Wellington.
However, no doubt after a week’s tough training, Tana Umaga’s men should still prove too strong in the cross over match.
Wellington, there selves, after such an impressive opening weekend win, will be looking to continue their impressive form against Taranaki, who were outclassed in week one by Canterbury.
Although a number of Wellington’s All Blacks may not be available, they are the clear favourites over Taranaki, who may struggle with an absent Beauden Barrett.
Ranfurly Shield holders Waikato play Otago as firm favourites after beating Northland last week. However, the young, well drilled Otago side are vastly improving, following on from an impressive victory over Bay of Plenty in week one.
The game between Tasman and Canterbury could prove to be the round’s potential banana skin. After a brilliant pre-season and confident week one victory, Tasman could provide a very real threat to the largely unknown Canterbury side.
Notorious slow starters Southland face the difficult challenge of Rene Ranger’s Northland Taniwha; a vital game for both teams on the back losses in week one. Long gone, it seems, are the Stags’ glory days of holding the Ranfurly Shield and consistently making the ITM Cup Premiership semi-finals.
Northland edge into the encounter as favourites; although, it is possible that pressure could be a factor against the higher number of current Super Rugby players in the Stags side.
Week two of the competition sees the battle of the bays, as the Bay of Plenty face Hawke’s Bay, in what could be a very even encounter. In week one’s action, Hawkes Bay beat Manawatu easily 45-18.
The Bay of Plenty, however, lost their first encounter of the season, 32-29, with Otago, in Dunedin; piling pressure on the Steamers as they cannot afford to drop another game to an ITM Cup Championship side.
Big city giants Auckland travel away to Manawatu, where they will arrive as resounding favourites. Auckland, who scraped together a win over North Harbour last week, are a shadow of their former selves, needing another win to keep their Cup semi-final prospects alive. Although, the Manawatu Turbos might not provide the most sterling opposition, after being made to look very average by Hawkes Bay last week.
How will the teams fair this week in round two? What are your predictions?
This article has also been reproduced with the kind permission of Scott Donaldson, author of www.superrugbytips.com