The ITM Cup Round 3 is the first round which sees a team playing two games, while some fringe All Blacks have been released to play ITM Cup. It will be interesting to see how disruptive these changes will be, as sometimes combinations get ruined by the changing team dynamics.
Wellington and North Harbour are playing two games, this means we are seeing the beginning of rest and rotation with Wellington starting some great players including Victor Vito from the bench and TJ Perenara gets a start. They have plenty of depth to still field a strong team to face North Harbour at Westpac Stadium on Wednesday – (note the Wednesday game is nearly here!). North Harbour has made changes after they were thrashed by Counties last week. They do welcome back James Parsons and fringe All Black Francis Sailli, but they may be saving themselves for a more winnable game against Northland at the weekend. Wellington should still win easily given their recent good form, but it can be difficult when you are unbackable favourite. I am picking Wellington to thrash North Harbour by 42 points and I think given the massive margins in earlier rounds, that this is possible. The only worry could be complacency which could keep the scores closer.
Canterbury host Waikato in what would in previous seasons be a clash of the titans, but I have been disappointed with Waikato who looked average against Otago and lost the Ranfurly Shield. Canterbury on the other hand welcome back Colin Slade and Luke Whitelock to strengthen their team. They have done well without most of their stars so far and should be too strong for a Waikato team who could be fired up after losing the Ranfurly Shield. Canterbury will win by decent margin, I am picking 28 points.
I am looking forward to the Counties vs Tasman game because both of these teams are exciting. Both teams have a win and a loss so far and I am picking Counties to win a tight match at home.
My upset pick of the round is Bay of Plenty to beat Auckland. The Steamers have provided plenty of scares for Auckland in the past and given how lethargic Auckland were against Manawatu and North Harbour in their opening games, I wouldn’t be surprised if BOP won.
North Harbour vs Northland is one for the purist only as both of these teams. It will be interesting to see if North Harbour can bounce back from playing a game midweek. There will be plenty of sore bodies who will have to try and tackle both Rupeni and Rene.
Southland vs Taranaki is the dance of the desperates. The Stags have lost to both Tasman and Northland and that loss to Northland was a poor performance. It is hard to know how good Taranaki are since they have only played the two top teams in the Premiership in Canterbury and Wellington. I have a feeling that neither of these teams is as good as they were a few seasons back, so it will be interesting to see who wins this match. Can Southland play any worse than they did against Northland? They started coming to life about halfway through the 2012 season and must be due to spring to life sometime, otherwise it will be a long season. I am a true blue Stags supporter, but it is tough for even me to pick them.
Wellington will be playing their second game in two days, but should still be too strong for Manawatu. This Wellington Lions team is actually lucky to have some of their best players like Victor Vito and TJ Perenara surplus to requirements for the All Blacks. Expect a big win for the Lions!
Can Otago hold the Ranfurly Shield for more than one defence? I think that while Hawkes Bay will be fired up for the challenge, Otago should be too good. They have been impressive this season and assuming Hayden Parker kicks well and TJ Ioane continues to offer plenty off the bench, then they should win. It will be interesting to see how they without the enigmatic Tony Ensor.
ITM Cup Round 3 who are you picking?
Here are my ITM Cup Round 3 picks
Wellington by 42 points
Canterbury by 28 points
Counties by 7 points
BOP by 3 points
Northland by 7 points
Taranaki by 7 points
Wellington by 28 points
Otago by 6 points