What a difference a week makes. Counties went from a close loss to Auckland in the opening game of ITM Cup Round 4 before winning the Ranfurly Shield off Hawkes Bay on Saturday. It is great to see the Ranfurly Shield going to provincial parts of New Zealand who really appreciate it. There is still passion in ITM Cup rugby which has seen inspired challenges from Otago, Hawkes Bay and now Counties Manukau all lift the Ranfurly Shield in successive weeks.
My only hope is that the Ranfurly Shield stays away from Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Waikato for the rest of the season. These places have Super Rugby franchises and don’t appreciate it like the smaller unions.
The last three weeks has seen massive crowds show up to watch close epic matches where these teams have punched above themselves all for Ranfurly Shield honour. It is hard to know how to get all ITM Cup matches to feature such intensity and draw such big crowds. Outside of the last three Ranfurly Shield matches there have been some good games, but the majority have been played in front of disappointing crowds and featured some terrible skills by players who should by now know how to do the basic micro skills properly like passing, kicking and tackling. Some teams have been far too guilty of wanting to go too wide too quickly without doing the basics upfront first.
In ITM Cup Round 4 there were two upsets for SuperBru tipsters with the Stags beating Waikato and the Counties Manukau Ranfurly Shield win over Hawkes Bay proving too difficult for about 90 percent of punters.
The ITM Cup Premiership is a three horse race with Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington looking impressive while the rest battle it out for the fourth spot. These bottom four teams must beat the Championship teams in their crossover matches and also beat the other contenders for that fourth spot. Waikato just don’t seem to have the personnel and they lost in an ugly match in Invercargill which made me wonder if the ball being used was actually a cake of soap. It must be tough for the people of Waikato to get excited given that they are the home of the Super Rugby title, but it would be interesting if they get relegated!
Counties did well to beat Hawkes Bay and stay in the hunt. Taranaki challenge for the Ranfurly Shield against Counties in a match with huge ramifications with both teams needing the ITM Cup points but also wanting the Ranfurly Shield.
In the ITM Cup Championship, Tasman are the team to beat after thrashing Otago. It looks similar to the ITM Cup Premiership with three teams Tasman, Hawkes Bay and Otago looking likely for the finals while Southland, Northland, Manawatu and North Harbour will battle it out for the fourth spot. The Stags win over Waikato has given them a good chance, but they face three winnable games against North Island opposition in the next ten days.
In the Super Rugby Tips SuperBru competition Morales has extended the lead with Brit47 in 2nd place. There is the odd upset and that Tasman winning margin over Otago for example stumped most people.
Which teams impressed you in the ITM Cup Round 4?