On the eve of the semi-finals (and an equally exciting relegation game) Canterbury player Taylor Curtis looks forward to perhaps the most exciting weekend in women’s domestic rugby history.
This season has almost certainly been the most jaw-dropping Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) competition so far. And it’s a reflection on New Zealand’s rapid interest in women’s rugby. It’s no kept secret that women’s rugby had grown dramatically in the last 18 months on the back of the Black Ferns’ fourth World Cup success and their now semi-professional contracted environment. It’s stirred a hunger and set a burning flame within the FPC competition. Since then the flame has been fueled by player’s oxygen, taking it from their lungs to fuel this burning desire and as the end of the season approaches it’s really starting to flare – no matter what end of the table, you’re now playing for survival.
Bay of Plenty’s tremendous round robin victory over the Auckland Storm, on Auckland’s hallowed turf can’t go unmentioned in the build up to the relegation game. Auckland have an aura about them and their home soil is where the eye of their storm is held, they usually crush teams with that. This time the Bay brought something of their own, a different kind of radiance, one that saw light appear through the darkest cloud. Although this was during week five of the competition this was the moment that signalled Auckland’s fate.
On paper the odds were stacked against the Bay: they were facing a strong tight five and some nippy outside backs, not to mention their own place at the bottom of the table. They were the pinnacle of underdogs.
But the Bay of Plenty took every little chance they could. Securing points outside and producing the best rugby possible, it was as if every moment won was a small victory in itself. Every try, every break and every turnover was a win, regardless of the score, as they really had nothing to lose. With that sort of mentality, you can see why they came away with the win.
The Bay are facing Auckland again this weekend in a bottom of the table clash as exciting as the finals, and a signal of the height the mighty Auckland empire has fallen. The excitement comes from the pride on the line, with a new rule relegating the loser to the Championship tier, while the winner stays in the Premiership.
At the other end of the table, Canterbury have shown nothing but pure class on the park all season, executing passes, plays and phases to help secure their spot on top of the Premiership (I may be bias but the 5-1 record speaks for itself). They made history once again last week defeating Auckland for just the second time since 2009. This team is about playing classy rugby very much like the Canterbury boys and are writing their own history to live alongside the men’s legendary record.
The victory over Auckland locked the JJ Stewart Trophy (the equivalent of the Ranfurly Shield) away for another year. It also secured the red and blacks a home semi against Manawatu, which will make for an exciting game between two fit and capable teams. A sudden death match brings a lot of weight and intensity. It’s not just another game, it’s a chance to claim 2018 as your year and is a step closer to putting your name on the cup.
The other semi will be equally as good – Waikato taking on Counties Manukau Heat. These are two teams that play different styles of rugby, you’ve got a strong Counties forward pack and Waikato full of pace. Counties have experience playing under pressure from the finals last year, but they’ve been exposed this year as beatable. Waikato will bring their own style of game and the burning flame along with them. It’ll be interesting to see which of these styles prevails on the day and walks away with the win and into the final.
For some players Black Fern selection hovers over them and this could be their last chance to show coaches what they’ve got – some added tension for this weekend for all teams. Once again what’s rugby without a bit of semi-final pressure.
The six week round robin has shown there will be no shortage of big hits, skill and passion this weekend. National selection won’t be what drives players it will be that flame that’s roared through the competition already, this time burning for a place in the final and a chance to make 2018 their year.
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