The ITM Cup Round 6 was the most exciting round of the season. Maybe it was because my Southland Stags grabbed two come from behind wins, but there were also plenty of tries scored in other games, with the Otago vs Manawatu seeing over 90 points scored, while the Southland vs North Harbour and Wellington vs Canterbury were also intensely close. There was also an entertaining Ranfurly Shield defence which Counties did well to win. The Stags win over BOP caught most punters out, while the Counties vs Waikato and Wellington vs Canterbury split the tipsters playing SuperBru. The rest of the results were relatively predictable.
Wellington are now favourites to finish top following their close but controversial win over Canterbury. Canterbury got over the Wellington try line twice, but both were disallowed. There was also controversy with a late Tony Pulu try awarded for Counties to put them out to an unbeatable lead against Waikato. It seems that while the players have nothing on the All Blacks, the refereeing is also far from international quality. This makes for some entertaining matches which are close, but there are plenty of mistakes.
Both Counties and Southland are finally realising their potential finally and will meet on October 11th for the Ranfurly Shield.
It seems that the Stags play best when they give their opponents the lead and eventually comeback and win.
Bay of Plenty look dead and buried in the Premiership this season after two losses in ITM Cup Round 6.
There were some other interesting scenarios in ITM Cup Round 6.
1) In the Tasman vs Hawkes Bay game, Chris Eaton from Hawkes Bay just kept holding Tasman lock Alex Ainsley and punching him, when he eventually retaliated by defending himself, he was the one penalised and they were both sent to the sin bin. I still find it funny how you can start punching someone knowing that if he hits back, he is penalised. It still doesn’t sit with me that you should just stand there being punched by an opposition player without defending yourself.
2) The Championship is more exciting than the Premiership. The Premiership top three of Wellington, Canterbury and Auckland seem to be hot favourites for the semi-finals. Compare this to the Championship where the Southland Stags went from last to third courtesy of their win over BOP. It is just so open that all teams could make the top four.
3) The elements – There has been plenty of wind and rain recently. It is interesting how many teams struggle to play with the elements. Kicking still needs to be accurate, but the problem seems to be that teams play well into the wind by retaining possession and the rules seem more skewed towards the team in possession, so because there is a temptation to kick for territory if you have possession then you find that teams don’t really dominate when they have the wind like they should.
4) The ITM Cup draw is crucial. The Southland Stags for example play their three crossover matches against Waikato, BOP and Counties, hence avoiding the big three of Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury. They should be counting their lucky stars! They could end up with a Ranfurly Shield and ITM Championship!
5) My hat must go off to Tasman Number Eight Liam Squire with his two tries based on diving on a moving ball in the ingoal. One of these came from a Joe Wheeler chip kick. It seems that some players like Wheeler can be quality in the ITM Cup but only average in Super Rugby.
It will be interesting to see how many of these ITM Cup players get called up for Super Rugby and test rugby eventually, although you get the feeling the gap between ITM Cup and test rugby has grown in recent years.
In the SuperBru tipping competition Hangdog kicked some serious butt to win the yellow cap while Morales has stretched their lead in the competition. A few punters picked all eight winners in ITM Cup Round 6. What did you make of ITM Cup Round 6?