Planet Rugby

Season preview: ITM Cup 2014

11th August 2014 11:22

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Tasman back Marty Banks at ITM Cup launch

Top table: Banks and Tasman

Canterbury will be looking to seal a magnificent seven straight ITM Cup titles when New Zealand's provincial competition kicks-off this Thursday.

For the third time, the red and blacks defeated Wellington for the 2013 silverware at the final hurdle as they ran out 29-13 at Westpac Stadium.

But will they triumph in 2014? Here we look at the runners and riders this season, with Auckland and Wellington set to be their challengers.

ITM Cup Premiership

Auckland

Last year: Third spot in the regular-season with seven wins from ten games and an away semi-final ultimately cost them, going down to a heavy 56-26 loss to Canterbury in Christchurch. Plus points from 2013 were the emergence of now All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu and outside centre Malakai Fekitoa while the form of flank Luke Braid and power of wing George Moala saw them average over 30 points a game in the season.

This year: The absence of Braid due to surgery is cushioned by Jerome Kaino's return so they will be amongst the contenders once again. New coach Paul Feeney, who takes over from Wayne Pivac, will look for big campaigns from the likes of Moala and Ben Lam.

Prospects: With fly-half or full-back Gareth Anscombe not yet moving to Wales, they have two strong playmaking options as Simon Hickey returns from injury. Do they have enough as a complete package up front to win? We don't think so as it is knockout rugby at best.

Squad: Fraser Armstrong, Nick Barrett, Charlie Faumuina, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Tom McCartney, Keven Mealamu, Gafatasi Su'a, William Lloyd, Liaki Moli, Scott Scrafton, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jack Whetton, Joe Edwards, Nepia Fox-Matamua, Blake Gibson, Airi Hunt, Jerome Kaino, Steve Luatua, Sean Polwart, Peter Saili, Leon Fukofuka, Wayne Ngaluafe, Gareth Anscombe, Simon Hickey, TJ Faiane, Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Hadleigh Parkes, Francis Saili, Vince Aso, Ben Lam, Charles Piutau, Lolagi Visinia.


Canterbury

Last year: Despite coming second in the league standings, the Cantabs went on to lift the title with a 29-13 win over Wellington showing their unrivalled ability to turn it on when it matters. Milford Keresoma was the competition's top try-scorer with eight and will hope to shine again alongside trio Tom Taylor, Patrick Osborne and Johnny McNicholl. A superb sixth successive title was Canterbury's then. How do they do it time and time again?

This year: They lose Jordan Taufua to Counties while mainstay Corey Flynn departs to Toulouse so much will rest on the shoulders of Ben Funnell, with Codie Taylor backing him up at hooker. Of course they'll be without several players during the Rugby Championship but have depth coming in the form of promising talent Richie Mo'unga and Nepo Laulala, the latter impressing in Super Rugby and will start plenty of games in the ITM Cup this season.

Prospects: Looking at their squad, Canterbury will be missing huge numbers during the early campaign, with Joe Moody and Colin Slade the latest called by New Zealand. But once the business end arrives expect them to be there. A brave person would bet against them.

Squad: Scott Barrett, Dominic Bird, Tyler Bleyendaal, Jed Brown, Dan Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Ryan Crotty, Mitchell Drummond, Joel Everson, Sione Falatau, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Willi Heinz, Alex Hodgeman, Milford Keresoma, Nepo Laulala, Daniel Leniert Brown, Johnny McNicholl, Nasi Manu, Richie McCaw, Joe Moody, Richie Mo'unga, Patrick Osborne, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Colin Slade, Matt Symons, Codie Taylor, Tom Taylor, Rob Thompson, Matt Todd, Siate Tokolahe, Adam Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock.


Taranaki

Last year: Just three wins out of ten - with the worst scoring rate of under 14 points per game - amassed by the 'Naki as they finished second bottom in last year's Premiership. Of course the absence of star player Beauden Barrett was a blow but there were a few bright notes for coach Colin Cooper as Isaia Tuifua, Andre Taylor and the versatile Blade Thomson stood out with top flight survival achieved at the expense of Bay of Plenty.

This year: They lose Jarrad Hoeata and the aforementioned Tuifua but have recruited well in the form of Charlie Ngatai and Angus Ta'avao, who will do solid jobs at centre and prop respectively. Meanwhile, James Marshall has improved twelve months on and the same goes for James Broadhurst, Rhys Marshall and number eight Thomson so they do have decent firepower. Taranaki will hope that Kurt Baker returns from injury as soon as possible.

Prospects: Another season down the bottom of the standings is expected for Taranaki, as they will battle with Tasman for survival. We can't see them avoiding the dreaded play-off.

Squad: Ryan Cocker, Angus Ta'avao, Mitchell Graham, Sione Lea, Timo Tutavaha, Rhys Marshall, James Broadhurst, Kane Barrett, Leighton Price, Riki Hoeata, Mitchell Crosswell, Iopu Iopu, Mitchell Brown, Doug Tietjens, Berny Hall, Blade Thomson, Jamison Gibson-Park, Chris Smylie, Marty McKenzie, Beauden Barrett, James Marshall, Beauden Waaka, Seta Tamanivalu, Charlie Ngatai, Sean Wainui, Kurt Baker, Codey Rei, Waisake Naholo, Jackson Ormond.


Counties Manukau

Last year: Making the semi-finals and lifting the coveted Ranfurly Shield was a remarkable achievement for Counties in their promotion year. They won six matches out of ten in 2014 - providing plenty of entertainment for their Pukekohe faithful along the way - with the likes of Bundee Aki, Fritz Lee and Frank Halai standing out. Their heavy loss against Wellington in the knockout stages should not ruin what was an otherwise impressive top flight term.

This year: The arrival of Crusaders blindside Jordan Taufua is a huge coup for Counties as it will add much-needed steel to the Steelers' forward pack. However, he must replace now Clermont number eight Fritz Lee in the back-row so much will rest on the youngster's shoulders. The backline meanwhile is full of talent - it could read Pulu, Kerr, Stowers, Aki, Lee-Lo, Halai, Nanai-Williams from 9 to 15 - so Tana Umaga will look to them to shine.

Prospects: They will be in the mix once again under Umaga's guidance as the Steelers eye back-to-back top four finishes. It is possible with a comfortable feel to this squad.

Squad: Bundee Aki, Sione Anga'aelangi, Onosai'i Auva'a, Sean Bagshaw, Adam Cathcart, Jarrod Firth, Frank Halai, Kane Hancy, Dan Hyatt, Baden Kerr, Mike Lawrenson, Rey Lee-lo, Sikeli Nabou, Tim Nanai-Williams, Pauliasi Manu, Jared Page, Augustine Pulu, Toni Pulu, Ronald Raaymakers, Sherwin Stowers, Jordan Taufua, Suliasi Taufalele, Ahsee Tuala, Jimmy Tupou, John Tu'ungafasi, Maama Vaipulu, Sam Vaka.


Waikato

Last year: Missing the top four spots equalled a disappointing season for the Mooloo men as Counties finished seven points ahead of them. Just the four wins from ten games while they conceded more points than they scored so it was a forgetful effort. One player who impressed though was blindside Rory Grice while then captain Jackson Willison could not say goodbye to ITM Cup rugby with a bang. Unfortunately both are not involved in 2014.

This year: Liam Messam and Tawera Kerr-Barlow were not considered due to All Black commitments, which makes the campaign even more of an uphill task for Waikato. The arrival of experienced flanker Marty Holah is a boost up front while All Blacks Sevens duo Declan O'Donnell and Joe Webber are two players to watch, with Webber's ability to find top gear from a standing start something special. Brad Weber is their captain from the base.

Prospects: We can't see them improving on last season's fifth spot as on paper other squads look stronger. A tough campaign awaits them near the Premiership basement.

Squad: Josh Hohneck, James McGougan, Ben Tameifuna, Loni Uhila, Joe Walsh, Hame Faiva, Brayden Mitchell, Luke Katene, David Morgan, Nick Ross, Jacob Skeen, Josh Tyrell, Adam Burn, Whetu Douglas, Zac Hohneck, Marty Holah, Zane Kapeli, James Tucker, Harrison Levien, Troy Lobendahn, Brad Weber, Wharenui Hawera, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordan Payne, Regan Ware, Semisi Masirewa, Declan O'Donnell, Joe Webber, Dylan Collier, Albert Nikoro.


Wellington

Last year: Wellington were looking good to end Canterbury's outstanding streak as they finished atop the league table with nine victories out of ten leading up to the 41-10 semi-final win over Counties Manukau. However, they came up short in the final on home soil as Canterbury won 29-13. Alapati Leiua starred alongside Lima Sopoaga in the backline while Victor Vito showed what an athlete he is in a largely decent term. Just don't mention the final.

This year: Wellington head coach Chris Boyd is set to be without both tighthead Jeffery Toomaga-Allen and openside Ardie Savea for the whole campaign, which is a significant setback. Toomaga-Allen was outstanding in Super Rugby so his absence is a sizeable one but they do have plenty of quality in other positions. Winger Leiua and fly-half Sopoaga have departed, as has Tim Bateman, but in come Jason Woodward and Riki Flutey for 2014.

Prospects: Expect a strong season from the likes of inside centre Shaun Treeby and back-row Brad Shields but the departures are a blow to the Lions. Top four but no title.

Squad: Tolu Fahamokioa, Reggie Goodes, Taniela Koroi, John Schwalger, Eric Sione, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles, Motu Matu'u, James O'Reilly, Vaea Fifita, Kaipati Gaualofa, Christian Lloyd, Api Naikatini, Jeremy Thrush, Ross Filipo, Adam Hill, Mark Reddish, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Victor Vito, Jared Kahu, Matt O'Connor, TJ Perenara, Frae Wilson, Riki Flutey, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Wes Goosen, Tau Mamea, Ma'a Nonu, Ope Peleseuma, Parataiso Siliafai-Leaana, Conrad Smith, Shaun Treeby, Ambrose Curtis, Afa Fa'atau, Cory Jane, Julian Savea, Belgium Tuatagaloa, Sam McNicol, Matt Proctor, Jason Woodward.


Tasman

Last year: Success for the Makos as they followed up top spot in the Championship with a semi-final win over Southland before Hawke's Bay were edged out 26-25 to promotion glory. The big success stories were number eight Liam Squire, goal-kicker Marty Banks, finisher James Lowe and centre Tom Marshall, all of whom stood out for Kieran Keane's side. Led by the superb openside Shane Christie, it was a season that was hugely successful.

This year: Quentin MacDonald's return following a brief stint at Munster is a fillip for the Makos while Joe Wheeler, Tim Perry, Kieron Fonotia and Bryce Heem have all improved in Super Rugby and Sevens respectively since they secured promotion. A back-row of Tevita Koloamatangi, Christie and Squire meanwhile can cut it with the best of them in the Premiership and also keep an eye out for a busy Robbie Malneek in the back-three.

Prospects: We're not expecting miracles and it could be a basement scrap, but their brand will entertain throughout the campaign. They should have enough class to survive.

Squad: Ross Geldenhuys, Siua Halanukonuka, Reuben Northover, Tim Perry, Jesse MacDonald, Quentin MacDonald, Alex Ainley, Tevita Cavubati, Joe Wheeler, Shane Christie, Vernon Fredericks, Tevita Koloamatangi, Jeff Lepa, Peter Samu, Liam Squire, Jimmy Cowan, Billy Guyton, Marty Banks, Kieron Fonotia, David Havili, Tom Marshall, Michael Wells, Bryce Heem, James Lowe, Robbie Malneek, Mitchell Scott, Ben Tyler.

Forthcoming Fixtures
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Saturday , November 22
Exeter vs WaspsExeter vs Wasps Preview
London Irish vs BathLondon Irish vs Bath Preview
Sunday , November 23
Saracens vs NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Preview
London Welsh vs Leicester TigersLondon Welsh vs Leicester Tigers Preview
Friday , November 28
Bath vs Harlequins19:45
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International Match
Saturday , November 22
Italy vs South AfricaItaly vs South Africa Preview
Scotland vs TongaScotland vs Tonga Preview
Romania vs CanadaRomania vs Canada Preview
Ireland vs AustraliaIreland vs Australia Preview
Wales vs New ZealandWales vs New Zealand Preview
England vs SamoaEngland vs Samoa Preview
France vs ArgentinaFrance vs Argentina Preview
Sunday , November 23
Georgia vs JapanGeorgia vs Japan Preview
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Guinness PRO12
Sunday , November 23
Treviso vs LeinsterTreviso vs Leinster Preview
Edinburgh vs Cardiff BluesEdinburgh vs Cardiff Blues Preview
Friday , November 28
Munster vs Ulster19:35
Cardiff Blues vs Benetton Treviso19:35
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Recent Results
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Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 21
Harlequins 12 - 16 Sale SharksHarlequins vs Sale Sharks Report
Newcastle Falcons 20 - 10 GloucesterNewcastle Falcons vs Gloucester Report
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International Match
Fiji 20 - 14 USAFiji vs USA Report
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Guinness PRO12
Dragons 12 - 38 MunsterDragons vs Munster Report
Ulster 25 - 16 OspreysUlster vs Ospreys Report
Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow WarriorsScarlets vs Glasgow Warriors Report
Connacht 43 - 3 ZebreConnacht vs Zebre Report
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Sunday , November 16
Leicester Tigers 21 - 21 SaracensLeicester Tigers vs Saracens Report
Wasps 71 - 7 London WelshWasps vs London Welsh Report
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Ireland 49 - 7 GeorgiaIreland vs Georgia Report
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Saturday , November 15
Sale Sharks 36 - 8 London IrishSale Sharks vs London Irish Report
Bath 23 - 14 Newcastle FalconsBath vs Newcastle Falcons Report
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Romania 13 - 18 JapanRomania vs Japan Report
England 28 - 31 South AfricaEngland vs South Africa Report
France 29 - 26 AustraliaFrance vs Australia Report
Scotland 16 - 24 New ZealandScotland vs New Zealand Report
Tonga 40 - 12 USATonga vs USA Report
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Friday , November 14
Gloucester 15 - 22 HarlequinsGloucester vs Harlequins Report
Northampton 18 - 24 ExeterNorthampton vs Exeter Report
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Italy 18 - 20 ArgentinaItaly vs Argentina Report
Canada 13 - 23 SamoaCanada vs Samoa Report
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LV= Cup
Cardiff Blues 19 - 13 Scarlets
Ospreys 35 - 51 DragonsOspreys vs Dragons Report
Sunday , November 9
Wasps 43 - 22 London Irish
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Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Northampton726
2Exeter724
3Bath724
4Saracens724
5Wasps720