New Zealand’s provincial rugby competition, the Mitre 10 Cup, kicked off with a bang last weekend.
53 tries were scored over seven matches played – which means more tries are being scored in the Mitre 10 Cup than any other professional rugby competition.
Last year’s finalists, Auckland and Canterbury, were ambushed by less-fancied sides North Harbour and Waikato and failed to secure expected victories. Ranfurly Shield holders Otago were also destroyed by Bay of Plenty, 50-7.
The second week of the competition will see neighbours do battle with neighbours – which means it’s the perfect opportunity for fans to get a glimpse at the talent that’s coming through the ranks in their local regions.
On Thursday, Northland will host Auckland in one of only two games this round between undefeated teams. The Northland halves combo of Sam Nock and Jack Debreczeni bossed the Taniwha around the park last weekend and will likely have their work cut out for them against a probably paring of Jonathan Ruru and Harry Plummer.
Keep an eye out for Hoskins Sotutu, who grabbed a brace for Auckland last week. Sotutu is the son of former Blues and Crusaders flyer Waisake Sotutu and has a flash of his dad’s pace about him, despite playing in the loose forwards.
Counties Manukau travel up the motorway to take on North Harbour in the first of Friday’s fixtures. Etene Nanai-Seturo looked sharped for the Steelers, coming off a season with the Chiefs and the New Zealand Under 20 side. Counties will look to bounce back strongly after falling to Championship side Taranaki last weekend.
Harbour, by contrast, somehow snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat – and would have won the match if either of their last gasp penalty attempts made it between the sticks. Shaun Stevenson looked particularly dangerous for North Harbour in the backfield whilst Karl Tu’inukuafe showed the All Blacks selectors that he’s mobile as any other props in the country.
Hawke’s Bay took a while to warm up last weekend but eventually overcame Manawatu in the wet. They’ll play host to Wellington on Friday night and will be looking to build on a solid if unspectacular start to the season. Sam McNicol has only just returned from a long stint on the sidelines and is on a quest to earn a new Super Rugby contract for 2020.
Wellington were one of the big disappointments of the first round, being well and truly dealt to by the Tasman Mako. Brothers Jackson and Connor Garden-Bachop will play a big role in Wellington’s campaign moving forward.
Saturday’s first match sees the Taranaki Bulls pop over to Palmerston North to try and inflict more misery on Manawatu. The Bulls did well to contain an inspired Counties Manukau last week and have a number of stars in their team – including unwanted All Black Waisake Naholo. It was first five Daniel Waite who probably played the biggest role in the victory, however, pinning back Counties with a number of clever kicks.
The Turbos won’t want to start their season on 0 from 2, however, and have a pair of wily operators in Jamie Booth and Otere Black at halfback and first five. Manawatu will have spent countless hours on their lineout work at training after conceding four tries to driving mauls over the weekend. Watch out for fullback Sam Malcolm, who has a booming punt on him (and is a handy distance goal-kicker too).
Saturday’s showpiece event is the Ranfurly Shield match between Otago and Southland. Southland are on a 22-match losing streak, but all will be forgiven if the Stags can claim the sacred Log of Wood. Big Moses Faletau looks like he could be a useful centre for Southland – and appears to possess some well-maintained kicking boots.
Otago, despite being crushed by Bay of Plenty, will have ample belief that they can defend the Shield for the third time this season. Vilimoni Koroi has the X-factor to step up to the next level but struggled at running the ship last weekend. Otago will again be without Josh Ioane for the clash but may be better served shifting Koroi to fullback where he’ll have more space to work his magic.
The first of Sunday’s matches will see Canterbury and Tasman duke it out to be crowned big brother of the Crusaders region for another year. Canterbury looked dangerous on attack last week but insipid on defence at times. Fullback Josh McKay was one of the best on the park and could be going head-to-head with Koroi for the Highlander’s 15 jersey next season.
Tasman are a side absolutely stacked with talent. Their own outside back, Will Jordan, was also rumoured to be open to a move to the Highlanders for a short time but has re-committed to the Crusaders. His pace was a huge problem for Wellington on the kick chase – a tactic that Tasman will no doubt look to use again this weekend.
In the final game of the round, two of the opening week’s best performing sides will wage war. Bay of Plenty, at home in Rotorua, will host neighbours Waikato. Mitch Karpik was one of the busiest players on the field against Otago and will look to continue his rich form from the Maori All Blacks’ series against Fiji.
For Waikato, Quinn Tupaea continues to look like a future New Zealand superstar. He made countless breaks against Canterbury and packs a hugely powerful fend. His combination with experienced campaigner Dwayne Sweeney was reliable in round one.
There’s plenty to look forward to in the second round of the Mitre 10 Cup, but if you can only catch one match then don’t miss out on the Crusaders sides’ battle for supremacy. That match promises to be an absolute ripper.
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