itm cupThe highlight of the ITM Cup Round 2 was Otago’s gritty 26-19 win over Waikato to win the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in 56 years.  This upset win was only predicted by 8 percent of SuperBru tipsters and has breathed a new lease of life into the ITM Cup Championship.  While I don’t want to take anything away from Otago’s victory, the standard of most ITM Cup matches is very low compared with how I remember it in the 1990’s.  Back then there were All Blacks playing and it was a far bigger deal to win games than it is now in many regards.  I was also disappointed by some really poor play during the ITM Cup Round 2 which I will address later.  It was interesting over the weekend with some matches won by teams who lost the territory and possession statistics.  Defence definitely can win you matches.

The Premiership is a two horse race in my opinion.  Canterbury and Wellington look a cut above the other teams in the Premiership.  It is interesting in Round 2 of a competition because it puts some of the Round 1 results into perspective.  It ends up that Counties aren’t as bad as people thought, while both Auckland and Waikato aren’t as good as people thought.  It is funny how Canterbury can get a bunch of unknown young players to gel, yet both Auckland and Waikato are struggling.  The Bay of Plenty Steamers lost to Otago in the first round, but given Otago just beat Waikato, they aren’t as bad as anticipated.  Taranaki have had two tough games first, but still have a shot at making the semi finals.

The Championship is shaping up as a more exciting competition than the Premiership in my opinion.  Otago’s win in Waikato has brought the Ranfurly Shield into the second tier Championship.  This is great!  They host Hawkes Bay who have a good team, in their first defence on Sunday.  Hawkes Bay just lost to the Steamers and will be a stiff challenge.  Tasman pushed Canterbury for long periods and will challenge for the ITM Championship title.  Northland’s double act of Rupeni and Rene beat a disappointing Southland Stags team at Toll Stadium.  Whatever happened to Southland’s effective lineout drives and mauling up the guts?  They seemed intent on trying to play Northland at their own game and it didn’t work.  Manawatu only just lost to Auckland, but I think Auckland will struggle this season and so will Manawatu.  North Harbour will join Northland, Southland and Manawatu in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.

The standard of the ITM Cup is rather low when compared with the Rugby Championship and Super Rugby competition.  It is sad seeing some quality Super Rugby players dropping their standards at the lower semi amateur ITM Cup level.  I have seen plenty of average play over the past two rounds.  There have been some disgusting clearance kicks by forwards from inside their own in-goal area straight into their own team mates.  Some of these guys struggle with the basics like kicking, tackling and passing.  As a Southland supporter I was disappointed by their loss to Northland.  They had several opportunities at the end to drive the ball over from lineouts the old fashioned Southland way, but they never they decided to spin it wide far too much.  It seems that plenty of players at this level struggle to make smart decisions on the field.  While it is great to see Otago win the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in 56 years, I can’t help but think that it would have been more satisfying winning it in the 1990’s in front of 40,000 Canterbury fans at Lancaster Park against an All Blacks laden Canterbury team.  On Friday night Otago won the Ranfurly Shield against a inexperienced Waikato team with a sprinkling of Super Rugby players in front of a nearly empty Waikato Stadium.

Morales is top of the SuperBru competition while Brewski wins the Yellow Cap for best tipster of Round 2.  There were three upsets out of the seven matches in ITM Cup Round 2 with only 8 percent picking Otago to beat Waikato, while Counties and BOP both picked up supposedly upset wins, although I wasn’t surprised by these results given that both of these teams were Premiership teams playing against Championship teams.  Auckland narrowly avoided a huge upset against Manawatu.  There would have been 98 percent of unhappy SuperBru tipsters.  The margin in that game surprised most managers.

What did you make of ITM Cup Round 2?  How many results did you pick?  Is the ITM Cup standard too low or is it made to look bad because it is being played at the same time as the Rugby Championship?