Preview: ITM Cup Final

Date published: October 24 2014

After six rounds, few would have believed the 2014 ITM Cup Final would be played between Taranaki and Tasman at Yarrow Stadium.

Following six rounds, few would have believed Saturday’s 2014 ITM Cup Final would be played out between Taranaki and Tasman at Yarrow Stadium.

Canterbury had won six on the bounce at that point before a shock loss to North Harbour led to two further defeats as these two teams pounced.

Taranaki edged the Makos to top spot but both, of course, enjoyed home field advantage in their respective semi-final, which arguably didn’t matter for the latter as they outclassed the Cantabs in Nelson after the ‘Naki had needed extra-time to beat Auckland in another epic play-off game.

So we have a first final without Canterbury since 2007 and a first showpiece for either of the two competitors in a refreshing shake-up to the established order. This though has been no fluke, both the outfits are fully deserving of their big day out, with the Makos in particular impressing.

There is no weak link in their line-up as the front-row sees Ross Geldenhuys and Quentin MacDonald enjoying a new lease of life – the former has won himself a Super Rugby contract after moving to New Zealand to work – while both Alex Ainley and Joe Wheeler have been workhorses at lock. Geldenhuys’ story though is special, as the Highlanders await following the final: “I’m like a little boy on his birthday, I can’t wait for the season to start,” he said.

Shane Christie has backed up his 2014 season at that franchise while Liam Squire, Jimmy Cowan and Marty Banks have been a strong spine to the team, allowing the likes of Tom Marshall, James Lowe and Robbie Malneek to shine. We could go on and praise the XV.

Their hosts are no mugs however and it would be foolish to write them off, especially on their home patch and with impressive talents of their own. Waisake Naholo, Seta Tamanivalu, Marty McKenzie and Blade Thomson have stood out. The latter duo were recently rewarded for their efforts with a place in the Maori All Blacks squad to face Japan alongside team-mates Chris Smylie, Jamison Gibson-Park, Kurt Baker and the steady Charlie Ngatai.

Furthermore they may have a psychological edge having defeated Tasman earlier in the season, as late drama saw them win 31-30 in Nelson. Tasman might argue they had that game in the bag at 24-30 with no time left on the clock, but their push for a try bonus-point came back to haunt them as the ‘Naki turned over possession and promptly went down the other end and scored via left wing Naholo. One feels there will be revenge in the air.

But for the neutral this will be a final to enjoy as two of the so-called smaller provinces battle it out for glory while the likes of Auckland, Canterbury and of course 2013 runners-up Wellington only watch. Whoever wins, both team’s achievements in 2014 deserve praise.

Ones to watch:

For Taranaki: As mentioned, Waisake Naholo‘s late try stunned Tasman earlier in the year and if he can get over the whitewash while combining with the equally impressive Seta Tamanivalu, Taranaki can be deadly. Also keep an eye on James Broadhurst’s carrying

For Tasman: By his own standards, Tom Marshall did not have the best Super Rugby season for the Chiefs. However, he has followed up his 2013 ITM Cup form with another fine campaign in the red jersey. When he makes decent metres, the Makos are in business.

Head-to-head: We focus on a vital area in finals rugby as two of the competition’s leading scorers, Marty McKenzie and Marty Banks collide. Banks seems to flourish in the ITM Cup as he directs the Makos around the park while McKenzie has that ability to break the line – he has five tries this season – so we’re all set up for a great fly-half clash in New Plymouth.

Prediction: The visitors to take this. Tasman by 3!

The teams:

Taranaki: 15 James Marshall (c), 14 Codey Rei, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Marty McKenzie, 9 Chris Smylie, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Berny Hall, 6 Mitchell Crosswell, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Riki Hoeata, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Mitchell Graham.
Replacements: 16 Sione Lea, 17 Ryan Cocker, 18 Mitchell Brown, 19 Iopu Iopu-Aso, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Jackson Ormond, 22 Kurt Baker.

Tasman: 15 Robbie Malneek, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Quentin MacDonald, 1 Siua Hulanukunuka.
Replacements: 16 Jesse MacDonald, 17 Reuben Northover, 18 Tevita Cavubati, 19 Vernon Fredricks, 20 Billy Guyton, 21 David Havili, 22 Mitchell Scott.

Date: Saturday, October 25
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 BST, 06:35 GMT)
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Nick Briant, Damian Botherway
Television match official: Glenn Newman