Two rounds into the new Mitre 10 Cup campaign, and there have been some movements in our weekly power rankings.
There were some tightly-contested affairs, and some downright demolitions, so check out who ranks where in New Zealand’s premier domestic competition.
1 – Tasman (2-0) N/C
Following on from their impressive first-up win over Canterbury in round one, Tasman rolled through Southland 45-24 in Blenheim over the weekend.
Although they were playing the weakest side in the competition, and it might have taken them half an hour to get up right into their rhythm, but there can be no denying that once the Mako are in full flight, they are a difficult force to stop.
They showed that in the final 10 minutes of the first half and through most of the second, with fullback Will Jordan once again proving why he could finish the season as the competition’s most valuable player after dotting down for a brace of tries to cap off a neat display.
After two comprehensive wins in front of their home fans, there is no reason why they should be removed from the top spot of our power rankings.
2 – Bay of Plenty (2-0) UP 1
Last year’s Championship runners-up have proven to be the surprise package of the Mitre 10 Cup in the competition’s opening fortnight, registering two wins from two outings.
While their first victory was an unexpected rout of Taranaki, their second was a much closer win against Counties Manukau in Pukekohe.
It was a match that required grit, determination and plenty of self-belief, and Bay of Plenty, led by star men such as first-five Mike Delany and fullback Chase Tiatia, provided plenty of it in their 22-17 win.
If they can continue this winning form in the coming weeks, then they could perhaps challenge Tasman for the #1 position, but for now, they will have to settle for second.
3 – North Harbour (2-0) UP 2
Back-to-back one-point wins for North Harbour sees them edge their way up the rankings ever so slightly.
Despite losing key midfielder James Dargaville in the opening minute to concussion, and then falling behind 21-8 with 25 minutes to play, a 10-minute blitz saw the visitors score 21 points to seal a bonus point win.
Their exceptional back three trio of Tevita Li, Matt Duffie and Shaun Stevenson continued to wreak havoc, and loom as key individuals in Harbour’s pursuit for a Premiership title.
4 – Auckland (2-0) UP 4
Any concerns about the validity of Auckland’s unconvincing win over Counties Manukau in the opening round were dispelled as they dispatched Northland 28-12 in Whangarei in round two.
Wing Melani Nanai was undoubtedly Auckland’s main strike weapon, with the 25-year-old heavily contributing to his side’s win as he scored two well-taken tries and bagged a try assist en route to victory.
20-year-old first-five Harry Plummer didn’t look out of place in the pivot role, while halfback Leon Fukofuka was able to provide good, front-foot ball thanks to the work done by his productive forward pack.
Emerging from the first fortnight of competition undefeated is massive progress for the previously struggling Aucklanders, and whatever work being done by new coach Alama Ieremia is clearly working for the 16-time champions.
5 – Hawke’s Bay (2-0) UP 1
Building on their first-up win over a lowly Southland outfit in the opening weekend, Hawke’s Bay downed Otago 31-25 in Dunedin to finish their tour of the lower South Island undefeated.
It was an untidy fixture, with handling errors often marring the good work put in by both sides, but the Magpies held firm to walk away with a full set of competition points.
As was the case in the previous week, their forwards were the staple to the Bay’s success, with loose forwards Josh Kaifa – easily identifiable with his giant afro – and Gareth Evans both getting through big workloads, while hooker Ash Dixon’s leadership was instrumental.
If the men from Napier can get through what is set to be a stern challenge from Counties Manukau at home this week, they will certainly be in good stead to challenge for the Championship title.
6 – Canterbury (1-1) UP 4
A much-improved effort by Canterbury at AMI Stadium sees them rise up the rankings after putting away Wellington in an entertaining encounter.
It was a much-needed response by the title favourites, and through the efforts of men such as hooker Nathan Vella, halfback Mitchell Drummond, and wing Josh McKay, the quest for a 10th title in 11 years looks well underway.
After having played two of the competition’s toughest-looking opponents in the opening two weeks of fixtures, the rest of the campaign should fall into place for the reigning champions.
A trip to Tauranga next week to face Bay of Plenty should be interesting, given the surprising run of success the Steamers have had recently.
7 – Wellington (1-1) DOWN 5
Perhaps a downfall of five places is harsh for Wellington given they pushed Canterbury for the entirety of their 27-20 defeat in Christchurch, but a loss is a loss, and the Lions have paid the price for it.
That should not deter from the title-winning potential that exists in this side, and there is enough quality in the squad for them to bounce back immediately this week. Once again, flankers Vaea Fifita and Du’Plessis Kirifi were the eye-catchers at AMI Stadium, while hooker James O’Reilly and midfielder Thomas Umaga-Jensen both provided Wellington with many positives to look back on.
Set to face Southland back at Westpac Stadium later this week, the Lions can expect to return to the winners’ circle by the end of round three.
8 – Taranaki (1-1) UP 4
Taranaki bounced back from their shock loss to Bay of Plenty last week with an emphatic 41-21 thrashing of Manawatu in New Plymouth.
With the match doubling as a Ranfurly Shield defence, the amber and blacks really stepped their game up a notch for their home fans, and much of the credit for that can be attributed to their forward pack.
The hosts’ big men obliterated their opposites at scrum time, especially in the second half, and that handed them with a great platform to work from as they piled on the points.
No. 8 Toa Halafihi, midfielder Seta Tamanivalu, and outside backs Manasa Mataele and Beaudein Waaka were the standouts in a win that propels Taranaki to within a point of the Premiership top four, which is where they really should be.
9 – Waikato (0-2) DOWN 2
They may be two losses from two outings, but Waikato have still managed to creep into the top 10 based on how well they performed rather than on the defeats themselves.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for the Mooloos, who remain winless despite impressing against Manawatu in week one, and following that up with another outing against North Harbour that warrants merit.
However, they have only themselves to blame in their loss against Harbour in front of their home fans, as they blew a 13-point lead in the space of 10 minutes in a second half collapse that will have coach Jono Gibbes tearing his hair out.
Nevertheless, one bright spot was the solid performance of teenage rookie Quinn Tupaea, whose ability at this level – with just two caps under his belt – is growing at a rapid rate.
10 – Manawatu (1-1) DOWN 6
A demotion of six spots is well-deserving for Manawatu, as their incompetence against Taranaki allowed for a 20-point thumping at the hands of their rivals at Yarrow Stadium.
Chasing their first Ranfurly Shield win in over 40 years, the Turbos were crushed by a Taranaki side that rolled them at scrum time and were clinical in the backline.
Manawatu couldn’t handle what was being thrown at them by the Naki, and despite the commendable efforts of midfielder Rob Thompson and fullback Junior Laloifi, the visitors were rightly smashed as they severely missed the influence of injured first-five Otere Black.
Perhaps a clash against an under-firing Otago side back in Palmerston North this week could be what’s needed to kick them back into form.
11 – Northland (0-2) DOWN 2
Northland have the potential to be front-runners for a Championship title, but they just haven’t been able to put the pieces together in their opening two matches.
A one-point loss to North Harbour was unfortunate in week one, but their 28-12 loss against Auckland in Whangarei was not the way to follow up, and it was clear they struggled to cope with the athleticism of the in-form Melani Nanai.
Rene Ranger tried his best to counter Nanai’s exploits from the left wing, but rugby is a team match, and Ranger’s lone attempt to find success for the Taniwha came up empty-handed.
Both he and Australian first-five Jack Debreczeni continued to prove he Northland’s recruitment drive over the off-season was a success, but that off-field victory needs to translate to on-field results.
12 – Counties Manukau (0-2) DOWN 1
Two losses from two outings won’t quite have the alarm bells ringing among the Counties Manukau squad, but they will certainly be disappointed to have not secured victory over Bay of Plenty at home.
The Steelers were within reaching distance of victory from the outset, but the hosts just couldn’t quite get themselves over the line in the closing stages against a gritty Steamers outfit.
Hooker Joe Royal and No. 8 Sam Henwood both did well in the pack, as did Tongan international Latiume Fosita at first-five, but it was not enough as the Steelers fell into the relegation spot on the Premiership standings.
Although it was an improved showing from their defeat against Auckland at Eden Park, an upcoming win to open their account for 2018 will have to be hard-earned as they come up against Taranaki and Hawke’s Bay over the next week.
13 – Otago (0-2) N/C
The loss of an array of key personnel over the off-season again proved to be detrimental for Otago, who could not manage to secure their first win of the year against Hawke’s Bay at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
A few mishaps at the set-piece didn’t help their cause, and with six of their eight bench reserves appearing in just their second match at this level, inexperience proved to be the fatal factor in the second half, as that is where the Magpies scored most of their 31 points.
What should not be taken away from the Razorbacks is the influence that outside backs Jona Nareki and Vilimoni Koroi had on the match, while the return of loose forward Naulia Dawai appears to be one that the southern men will benefit from greatly.
Otago will be hoping that those individuals will lead the way for the side in their next match against Manawatu in Palmerston North.
14 – Southland (0-2) N/C
Southland put up a brave fight against the competition-leading Tasman at Lansdowne Park, but in the end, they lacked the quality to sustain that throughout the entire 80 minutes.
Led by hooker Flynn Thomas – who co-captains the province at the ridiculously young age of 20 – the Stags looked as though they had come to play after taking a12-7 lead after half an hour of play.
That good work all unravelled in the ensuing 50 minutes though, as the quality of Tasman shone to claim a hefty victory.
A flurry of tries in the closing stages is something Southland can be proud of, but they face another huge challenge this week when they travel to the capital to take on the might of Wellington later this week.
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