ITM Cup 2014 is here with two and a half months of provincial rugby action.  The ITM Cup is an interesting competition these days without the All Blacks and with games running from Thursday to Sunday meaning that knowing team selections before the start of the round is difficult.  There is also the tendency for teams to rotate their squads to avoid player burnout.

Some interesting points to note:

The early rounds usually see the odd upset before the best teams completely dominate with some massive winning margins.

Counties Manukau may struggle away from home without the Ranfurly Shield to inspire them.

Teams will rotate players depending on their schedule, so check who is playing before picking a result to avoid disappointment.

There is always the odd win by Championship teams over Premiership teams.  Round 1 is a good chance with Tasman hosting Hawkes Bay.

Canterbury is favourite to win the ITM Cup Premiership, but they have lost some of their experienced non All Black regulars and so watch for Auckland to compete in 2014.  Wellington have lost too many players to injury in 2014.

I am mainly picking the home teams to win ITM Cup Round 1 matches with the exception of Counties Manukau in the first game.

There are some great games in ITM Cup Round 1 with Canterbury vs Auckland a likely final in two months – time.  Southland vs Bay of Plenty is a likely ITM Cup Championship semi-final with the home ground important for the Stags.  Otago, Wellington, Northland and Tasman should all win at home.

Hawkes Bay might prove to be a handful for Tasman in the cross over game, while Counties should be too strong away from home for Taranaki who may struggle in 2014.

The key to dominating in ITM Cup rugby is having a quality first five eighth.  Even the best teams in the ITM Cup Championship have quality first five eighths like Lima Sopoaga, Hayden Parker and Ihaia West.

Who are you picking?

Here are my picks for ITM Cup 2014 Round 1

Your picks for Round 1:

Game Date and time Your pick
[1] Taranaki v Counties Manukau 14 Aug 12:00 (local)

14 Aug 12:00 (your time*)

Counties Manukau by 7
[2] Southland v Bay of Plenty 15 Aug 19:35 (local)

15 Aug 19:35 (your time*)

Southland by 6
[3] Otago v North Harbour 16 Aug 14:35 (local)

16 Aug 14:35 (your time*)

Otago by 14
[4] Canterbury v Auckland 16 Aug 16:35 (local)

16 Aug 16:35 (your time*)

Canterbury by 10
[5] Wellington v Waikato 16 Aug 18:35 (local)

16 Aug 18:35 (your time*)

Wellington by 14
[6] Tasman v Hawke’s Bay 17 Aug 14:35 (local)

17 Aug 14:35 (your time*)

Tasman by 8
[7] Northland v Manawatu 17 Aug 16:35 (local)

17 Aug 16:35 (your time*)

Northland by 3