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 , September 19
Gloucester vs ExeterGloucester vs Exeter Preview
Saturday , September 20
Sale vs London Welsh14:00
London Irish vs Saracens15:00
Harlequins vs Wasps15:00
Bath vs Leicester15:15
Sunday , September 21
Newcastle vs Northampton14:00
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Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 19
Munster vs ZebreMunster vs Zebre Preview
Cardiff Blues vs UlsterCardiff Blues vs Ulster Preview
Connacht vs LeinsterConnacht vs Leinster Preview
Saturday , September 20
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Glasgow14:40
Scarlets vs Benetton Treviso18:00
Sunday , September 21
Ospreys vs EdinburghOspreys vs Edinburgh Preview
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Top 14
Friday , September 19
Brive vs ToulonBrive vs Toulon Preview
Saturday , September 20
Racing Metro Paris vs Toulouse14:45
La Rochelle vs Bordeaux-Begles18:30
Grenoble vs Bayonne18:30
Castres vs Oyonnax18:30
Clermont Auvergne vs Lyon18:30
Montpellier vs Stade Francais20:45
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Currie Cup
Friday , September 19
Lions vs PumasLions vs Pumas Preview
Saturday , September 20
Western Province vs Griquas15:00
Blue Bulls vs Sharks17:05
Eastern Province Kings vs Cheetahs19:10
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ITM Cup
Friday , September 19
Counties Manukau vs CanterburyCounties Manukau vs Canterbury Preview
Saturday , September 20
Hawkes Bay vs Bay Of Plenty14:35
More ITM Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
ITM Cup
Thursday , September 18
Northland 20 - 31 TaranakiNorthland vs Taranaki Report
Wednesday, September 17
Southland 14 - 38 TasmanSouthland vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 14
Wasps 20 - 16 NorthamptonWasps vs Northampton Report
Newcastle 18 - 20 London IrishNewcastle vs London Irish Report
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Guinness PRO12
Cardiff Blues 12 - 33 GlasgowCardiff Blues vs Glasgow Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Bordeaux-Begles 27 - 21 MontpellierBordeaux-Begles vs Montpellier Report
More Top 14 results
ITM Cup
Waikato 26 - 21 Counties ManukauWaikato vs Counties Manukau Report
Hawkes Bay 41 - 0 Otago
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 13
Gloucester 34 - 27 Sale SharksGloucester vs Sale Sharks Report
Bath 53 - 26 London WelshBath vs London Welsh Report
Exeter 20 - 24 LeicesterExeter vs Leicester Report
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Rugby Championship
New Zealand 14 - 10 South AfricaNew Zealand vs South Africa Report
Australia 32 - 25 ArgentinaAustralia vs Argentina Report
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Guinness PRO12
Leinster 42 - 12 ScarletsLeinster vs Scarlets Report
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Top 14
Toulouse 9 - 13 Clermont AuvergneToulouse vs Clermont Auvergne Report
Bayonne 23 - 6 Brive
Oyonnax 40 - 27 Grenoble
Toulon 24 - 28 Stade FrancaisToulon vs Stade Francais Report
Racing Metro Paris 28 - 11 LyonRacing Metro Paris vs Lyon Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Griquas 31 - 27 PumasGriquas vs Pumas Report
Lions 35 - 33 Western ProvinceLions vs Western Province Report
Cheetahs 30 - 30 SharksCheetahs vs Sharks Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Bay Of Plenty 12 - 27 AucklandBay Of Plenty vs Auckland Report
Southland 36 - 34 Northland
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 12
Harlequins 0 - 39 SaracensHarlequins vs Saracens Report
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Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens29
2Bath29
3Leicester Tigers29
4Exeter26
5Northampton26