Planet Rugby

Tournament preview: ITM Cup

12th August 2013 08:49

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ITM Cup launch

Ready to go: ITM Cup

Arguably the underrated competition in world rugby returns this week as the ITM Cup is back, with Canterbury hot favourites to reclaim their crown.

Expect points aplenty, a wealth of attacking ability and young talent to once again come off of this always impressive domestic production line.

Remember that players such as Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Steven Luatua and Bundee Aki were relative unknowns this time last year. This term though, expect someone at the other end of the age spectrum - Rupeni Caucaunibuca - to catch the headlines as he forms a midfield combination with Rene Ranger at Northland in the second tier.

Premiership Contenders

Canterbury

Favourites and rightly so, Canterbury definitely possess the strongest squad in the comp. Yes, they will miss a clutch of international stars for plenty of their regular-season but they have enough in the tank to challenge for the title. Losing Wyatt Crockett, Dan Carter, Kieran Read for instance becomes offset by the impressive Joe Moody, Colin Slade or Tyler Bleyendaal and finally Nasi Manu set to step in. Jordan Taufua will also do a job after being limited to rare opportunities in Super Rugby.

Other players to keep an eye on this season are backline duo Belgium Tuatagaloa and Milford Keresoma, while reliable hooker Corey Flynn is ably backed up by Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor. As said, depth in this squad is mightily impressive and we expect Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock, Matt Todd and captain George Whitelock to be key to their 2013 challenge.

Wellington

The Lions begin their season with three out of their opening four fixtures coming away from home. However, they have enough firepower to come through all those trips with flying colours as the likes of Alapati Leiua, Tim Bateman, Shaun Treeby and Lima Sopoaga look to shine in the backline. Up front they're skippered by lock Jeremy Thrush - who has already admitted to being determined to end Canterbury's five-year stranglehold on the competition - while flank Brad Shields will look to transfer his Hurricanes form to ITM duty. Victor Vito has plenty to prove meanwhile and who can ignore rising Baby Blacks star Ardie Savea?

Auckland

Like the Christchurch outfit, Auckland will be without a handful of key players during the Rugby Championship as Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau will miss some action. Wayne Pivac's side are third favourites and much of their hopes rest on Steve Hansen's usage of Piutau's as his form in 2012's competition was one that took the spotlight. Key players this year will be Piri Weepu, Luke Braid and Peter Saili.

Auckland begin against North Harbour, Manawatu and Bay of Plenty so should strong well. Expect them to make the knockouts despite Gareth Anscombe and Ben Lam's injuries.

Outsiders

Counties Manukau

The newly-promoted Steelers will sorely miss Tim Nanai-Williams and Mahonri Schwalger but have cushioned that blow with the signature of Hika Elliot from Hawke's Bay. Elliot adds experience to a side that impressed last season, with Bundee Aki, Frank Halai, Sherwin Stowers, Rey Lee-Lo and Baden Kerr set to lead their charge in 2013. Tana Umaga and Steve Jackson definitely have a backline of quality but it is up front where the doubt lies.

Waikato

Ranfurly Shield holders and with flashes of quality in their group, Waikato should push for the top four but not the title. The arrival of Ben Tameifuna certainly beefs up their front-row but with Liam Messam set only to return for the business end, they need the likes of Jack Lam and Toby Smith to shine. Their backline is solid and it will be interesting to see how Sevens star Tim Mikkelson goes on the wing, but in truth they are unlikely to win the title.

No chance

Taranaki

While the quality of such backline players as Kurt Baker, Andre Taylor, James Marshall and front-row duo Chris King and Rhys Marshall is decent enough, Taranaki will miss the direction international fly-half Beauden Barrett brings. Set to be absent for the early-season, Barrett's absence leaves a hole. Perhaps more noticeable will be the departure of Craig Clarke, who heads overseas leaving a leadership gap James Broadhurst needs to fill.

Bay of Plenty

Finished last season with just three wins from ten games, the same as ultimately relegated side Hawke's Bay. It promises to be a similar basement battle. Tanerau Latimer and Willie Ripia are vital leadership cogs but we feel the absence of Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane due to Test commitments will hurt their hopes. One man to keep an eye on is forgotten centre Kenny Lynn, who hopefully will return to the form he was at before injury hit in 2012.

Prediction

1 Canterbury
2 Wellington
3 Auckland
4 Waikato
5 Counties
6 Taranaki
7 Bay of Plenty

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , October 3
Bath vs Saracens19:45
Saturday , October 4
London Irish vs Northampton15:00
Harlequins vs London Welsh15:00
Gloucester vs Leicester15:15
Sunday , October 5
Sale vs Wasps14:00
Newcastle vs Exeter15:00
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Rugby Championship
Saturday , October 4
South Africa vs New Zealand16:05
Argentina vs Australia23:40
More Rugby Championship fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , October 3
Connacht vs Cardiff Blues19:35
Ulster vs Edinburgh19:35
Zebre vs Ospreys19:35
Saturday , October 4
Leinster vs Munster18:30
Sunday , October 5
Benetton Treviso vs Glasgow14:00
Scarlets vs Newport Gwent D'gons16:00
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Friday , October 3
Oyonnax vs Toulon20:45
Saturday , October 4
Bordeaux-Begles vs Clermont Auvergne14:45
Racing Metro Paris vs Brive18:30
Bayonne vs Montpellier18:30
La Rochelle vs Lyon18:30
Castres vs Grenoble18:30
Toulouse vs Stade Francais20:45
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Friday , October 3
Pumas vs Blue Bulls15:00
Sharks vs Lions19:10
Saturday , October 4
Cheetahs vs Western Province14:00
Griquas vs Eastern Province Kings15:00
More Currie Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
ITM Cup
Wednesday, October 1
Hawkes Bay 36 - 14 WellingtonHawkes Bay vs Wellington Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 28
Wasps 35 - 18 NewcastleWasps vs Newcastle Report
Exeter 36 - 13 HarlequinsExeter vs Harlequins Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Newport Gwent D'gons 33 - 15 Benetton TrevisoNewport Gwent D
More Guinness PRO12 results
ITM Cup
Tasman 32 - 24 OtagoTasman vs Otago Report
Canterbury 26 - 28 SouthlandCanterbury vs Southland Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 27
Leicester 19 - 22 London IrishLeicester vs London Irish Report
Saracens 40 - 19 Sale SharksSaracens vs Sale Sharks Report
Northampton 31 - 24 BathNorthampton vs Bath Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Rugby Championship
South Africa 28 - 10 AustraliaSouth Africa vs Australia Report
Argentina 13 - 34 New ZealandArgentina vs New Zealand Report
More Rugby Championship results
Guinness PRO12
Zebre 13 - 6 UlsterZebre vs Ulster Report
Munster 14 - 19 OspreysMunster vs Ospreys Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Toulon 40 - 17 MontpellierToulon vs Montpellier Report
Grenoble 27 - 25 Racing Metro ParisGrenoble vs Racing Metro Paris Report
Brive 34 - 24 Bordeaux-Begles
Oyonnax 8 - 19 Clermont Auvergne
Stade Francais 43 - 10 La Rochelle
Lyon 28 - 18 Castres
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Sharks 53 - 24 Eastern Province KingsSharks vs Eastern Province Kings Report
Griquas 8 - 46 LionsGriquas vs Lions Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Waikato 20 - 22 ManawatuWaikato vs Manawatu Report
North Harbour 28 - 25 Hawkes Bay
Counties Manukau 55 - 7 WellingtonCounties Manukau vs Wellington Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 26
London Welsh 10 - 46 GloucesterLondon Welsh vs Gloucester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens418
2Northampton416
3Bath415
4Exeter414
5Wasps411