itm cupThe ITM Cup is close to the business end with Round 7 featuring must win matches if teams are going to make the semi-finals.  Canterbury and Manawatu both have double headers, but as Southland proved last week, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  There are some epic grudge matches with huge consequences with neighbours Otago hosting Southland in the most played match between any two teams. Canterbury and Auckland meet in a crucial ITM Cup Premiership match.  All of these teams still have a shot at the semi finals, but will desperately want to win if they are to cement a home semi-final.  Speaking of neighbours, Manawatu and Taranaki clash with both teams needing to win this weekend and several wins to make the semi-finals of their respective divisions.

The Premiership looks like a forgone conclusion with Wellington, Auckland and Canterbury in the box seat, while Counties Manukau will most likely join them in the semi finals since they hold a comfortable buffer ahead of fifth place.

The Championship is more interesting with 10 points separating all seven teams.  While Tasman look like the team to beat they have challengers in Hawkes Bay, Otago and a fast finishing Southland team to keep them on their toes.  Even the likes of North Harbour and Manawatu are relatively competitive, even against Premiership teams.  Northland have had a tough draw and been a bit unlucky, but they are still in the hunt, but will struggle to beat Tasman this weekend.

It will be interesting to see how Canterbury goes this week coming off a disappointing win over Otago and a defeat to Wellington, especially now that they are without their All Blacks and fringe All Blacks like Matt Todd and Colin Slade.  They not only have to overcome the entertaining Manawatu, but also Auckland at Eden Park.

Manawatu also have their problems conceding over 50 points to Otago last week and so they will have hit the tackling bags after that loss.  Manawatu are remarkably resilient given they are without their two All Blacks.

Here are my picks for ITM Cup Round 7.  I remember ITM Cup Round 5 had all games won by home teams, but Round 7 looks set to feature plenty of away wins unless there are upsets.  There are some potential banana skins this round with the underdogs likely to punch above their weight in important matches at home.  Auckland, Waikato and Manawatu are playing at home and these three teams are potential upset victors who could be worth picking if you are behind in your virtual SuperBru tipping competition, although we are unlikely to see all the home teams win this round.

I think there will be some really exciting games this round with the rivalries between Otago vs Southland, Manawatu vs Taranaki, and Auckland vs Canterbury likely to be close and very exciting.

My picks ITM Cup Rugby Round 7

Canterbury by 28 points

Tasman by 15 points

Wellington by 14 points

Otago by 6 points

Taranaki by 7 points

Canterbury by 6 points

Hawkes Bay by 6 points

Counties by 18 points

Who are you picking to win ITM Cup Round 7 matches?

Morales has a healthy lead in the Super Rugby Tips SuperBru tipping competition, who are you picking to win in ITM Cup Round 7?