The 43 rd edition of the Mitre 10 Cup is well underway in New Zealand, with the first week of matches handing all 14 provinces the chance to stamp their mark on the 2018 competition.
Throughout the campaign, we will rank each team on a weekly basis based on their performances to provide a power rankings structure for the entirety of the tournament.
Here are our power rankings based on the competition’s opening weekend of fixtures:
1 – Tasman (1-0)
There is no better way to start a Mitre 10 Cup campaign than to register a first up win in front of your home fans against the holders of nine of the last 10 domestic titles.
That’s exactly what the Makos did when they beat Canterbury 25-17 at Lansdowne Park in Blenheim.
If it weren’t for a late flurry of point-scoring by the reigning champions in the final 10 minutes, Tasman would have inflicted a much heftier winning margin over their neighbours to send shockwaves around the New Zealand rugby fraternity.
To dominate Canterbury for 70 minutes is not an easy feat, and so Tasman are rewarded with top spot in the opening weekend of the competition.
2 – Wellington (1-0)
Fresh from promotion from the second-tier Championship, Wellington looked in fine form as they dismantled Otago 34-16 in the round’s penultimate match at Westpac Stadium.
Wingers Wes Goosen and Malo Tuitama were the star men for the Lions, with both flyers bagging braces en route to victory.
Peter Umaga-Jensen was defensively solid at second-five-eighth, while the loose forward trio of discarded All Black Vaea Fifita, youngster Du’Plessis Kirifi and former England international Thomas Waldrom were effective across the park.
Add to that the return of blockbusting hooker Asafo Aumua from a long-term wrist injury, and Wellington look set to challenge for the Premiership title in their first season back in New Zealand rugby’s top flight.
3 – Bay of Plenty (1-0)
The duo were significant in their contributions to their side’s season-opening win, as were the hard-nosed approaches of forwards Liam Polwart and Mitch Karpik.
To overcome the heavily-favoured amber and blacks required a lot of determination, but the Steamers provided it in bucket loads, and they now look to be a very competitive force as they launch their bid for promotion into the Premiership for the first time since 2013.
4 – Manawatu (1-0)
Rested All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder was back on deck for Manawatu over the weekend as he helped steer them to an entertaining 24-19 victory over Waikato at Central Energy Trust Arena in Palmerston North.
While the addition of the former World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year was undoubtedly beneficial for the Turbos, it was the performance of captain Antonio Kiri Kiri that really struck a chord.
The Blues loose forward was exemplary across the park for the home side, and exposed Waikato’s subpar defence around the breakdown with a series of scintillating breaks in the second half.
Elsewhere, second-five Rob Thompson was top notch in his debut for his home province, and former Australian sevens representative Junior Laloifi impressed with his athleticism from fullback.
5 – Hawke’s Bay (1-0)
It was a convincing first-up display from Hawke’s Bay as they swept aside an underwhelming Southland outfit 31-10 in Invercargill to open their account for 2018.
The efficiency of the forward pack will be particularly pleasing for the Magpies, with all four of their tries coming from rolling mauls.
Furthermore, their defence will also standout as something to be proud of, as they managed to hold the Stags scoreless as they played with 13 men due to two yellow cards midway through the second half.
However, Hawke’s Bay will need to be weary of their discipline, as two sin bins would have come at a greater cost had they conceded them against more capable opposition.
6 – North Harbour (1-0)
The season-opener between North Harbour and Northland at QBE Stadium in Albany was a seesaw contest for the entire 80 minutes, but the statistical dominance of the hosts was enough to seal an expected victory.
While a win was widely-anticipated by most onlookers, North Harbour were made to work a lot harder than they would have expected to secure the four points against a plucky Taniwha outfit.
7 – Waikato (0-1)
A first-up loss to Manawatu didn’t stop Waikato from impressing in Palmerston North.
While a try to the Turbos in the final five minutes might have cost the Mooloos the match after going up 12-0 inside the first 10 minutes of the match, there was plenty to like about this Waikato side.
Sevu Reece was the obvious standout, as the Fijian-born winger caused the Manawatu defence numerous problems throughout the entirety of the match.
Teenage midfielder Quinn Tupaea looked comfortable in his Mitre 10 Cup debut and certainly looks to be an exciting prospect for the future, while captain Jordan Manihera was powerful and aggressive from blindside flanker.
All in all, they look as though they should provide North Harbour with a stern challenge when the two sides meet in Hamilton later this week.
8 – Auckland (1-0)
Given Counties Manukau’s dominance over Auckland in recent times, the home side’s 23-19 win at Eden Park should be celebrated.
However, the blue and white hoops’ success is symbolic the work done by new coach Alama Ieremia to turn last year’s relegation contenders back into title hopefuls.
Should Ieremia continue to build on the work and early success he has implemented at Auckland, then the 16-time champions should be excited about this season’s prospects.
9 – Northland (0-1)
It would not be shocking to see Northland elevate up these rankings in the weeks to come following their tightly-contested defeat at the hands of North Harbour.
Although they were eventually outclassed by the deservingly victorious province, the Taniwha managed to stay in the match through their exhilarating off-the-cuff style of play and gritty defence.
Six-test All Black wing Rene Ranger led the way with many scorching runs through the Harbour defence, while the acquisition of Melbourne Rebels first-five Jack Debreczeni could prove to be a masterstroke by coach Derren Witcombe.
The Australian pivot was on form throughout the contest, and his booming boot is set to play a key role in any success that Northland are to enjoy this season.
10 – Canterbury (0-1)
For a side that was won all but one domestic title since 2008, this was not the start to the 2018 season that most expected Canterbury to endure.
They were well and truly outplayed for 70 minutes by the Makos in Blenheim, and by the time they had fought their way back into the contest with two late tries to replacement hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, it was far too late.
Perhaps it was early season rust that undid the men from Christchurch, but for a squad with so much experience, talent and depth playing for a province that is steeped in such a rich history of success, new coach Joe Maddock must be hoping that result isn’t endemic of what’s to come this campaign.
You can almost be certain that that loss will provide them with plenty of motivation to rectify their woes against Wellington in Christchurch this week.
11 – Counties Manukau (0-1)
Counties Manukau’s loss to Auckland at Eden Park was an underwhelming display by a team that looks like it doesn’t quite have what it takes to threaten in the Premiership this season.
They do have some exciting players in their ranks, but without 18-year-old fullback Etene Nanai-Seturo – the most exciting figure in their squad – they didn’t offer enough to overcome Auckland at Eden Park.
Without him, most of the damage they inflicted on their opposition was via their forward pack, but for a side that features the likes of Orbyn Leger, Tevita Nabura and Toni Pulu in their backline, it is evident a more expansive game plan is needed by the Steelers.
12 – Taranaki (0-1)
Heavily expected to overcome Bay of Plenty and further their extensive winning record over the Steamers, Taranaki fell apart in Rotorua to kick off their season in poor fashion.
Stacked with 11 players with Super Rugby experience in their starting XV, the amber and blacks were run off the park by the hosts, who adapted to the dewy conditions far more efficiently.
With a Ranfurly Shield defence against the sharp-looking Manawatu later this week, coach Willie Rickards is going to have to whip his boys back into form quickly if they want to keep hold of the Log o’ Wood for another couple of weeks.
13 – Otago (0-1)
Depleted by a number of key departures over the off-season, Otago were dealt to harshly by Wellington at Westpac Stadium.
The Razorbacks could have done with the services of last year’s players Craig Millar, Josh Furno, Dillon Hunt, Jono Ruru, Fletcher Smith and Tei Walden, but were instead left to take on the Lions with an under-firing side.
They were ousted in most facets of the match by a bigger, stronger, more experienced Wellington team, and for all the attacking spark that sevens star Vilimoni Koroi created from fullback, it wasn’t enough to really challenge the opposition.
14 – Southland (0-1)
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Southland fans.
They have been without a competition victory since October 2016, and that run looks set to continue following their 31-10 thumping at the hands of Hawke’s Bay at Rugby Park Stadium.
Their inability to score, even when the Magpies only had 13 men on the field due to disciplinary issues, will be of great concern for the Stags, and with a squad that severely lacks any experience greater than that of Mitre 10 Cup, they could be in for another long nine weeks.
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