With a free weekend, and no rugby matches in my local area or any International Rugby Championship games on the Saturday night, it tested my rugby loyalty. I knew that in the next weeks the floodgates will open; with the ITM Cup about to start and fans like me would be saturated with top level rugby soon, but its the waiting that all fans hate. And speaking of waiting, its now less than 50 days until the next Rugby World Cup begins in England. I cannot wait – Yes I know, that’s Ironic.
Looking for some respite, the only worthwhile entertainment appeared to be the New Zealand Warriors rugby league match up against the Cronulla Sharks – it wasn’t rugby, so would it fill the void? No, unfortunately they lost 14-18 and it’s a keen Warriors fan who thinks that this side might challenge for the title in 2015, but it does demonstrate a clubs loyalty. From the players through to the fans, what ever sport it is, they all test your sides confidence when your team isn’t winning (sadly they had lost playmaker Shaun Johnson to injury) so is very similar to all sports, including Rugby. A winning side is easy to support, but loyalty runs deep.
Last week I noted how several regions in New Zealand still had to complete their club rugby seasons: Foremost was Wellington Rugby who held their ‘Jubilee Cup‘ final between Marist St Pats v Old Boys University. Thankfully for me, that match lived up to the hype even with driving rain to contend with. I have read the reports that say it was well contested game but in the end, the 2015 OBU side finally prevailed after 24 years of trying.
A thrilling match was played in front of a healthy local crowd on the enigmatic Porirua Park rugby ground, where these two old foes went head-to-head for the biggest prize in Wellington rugby. It was a dominant first half that saw OBU take the lead 25-6 with several tries until Marist looked to reclaim the ascension with a storming run to bring the game to a head in the second half. Great footy was played by each side, the final ten minutes seeing the scores close-up but in the end, stoic defense held out the strong challenge from Marist.
Winning captain Joe Beech held aloft the Jubilee Cup for the first time in this clubs existence [formed after Victoria University and Wellington College Old Boys merged] A great example of grassroots, both clubs have produced many All Blacks and one Conrad Smith would have been a proud former player up in the grandstand, as he proudly applauded along with all of their longtime fans. OBU 30-27 MSP
As well, Hawkes Bay Rugby Union celebrated the ‘Maddisson Trophy‘ semi finals matches – Napier Pirates triumphant 16-8 against Taradale, to set-up a final against Havelock North who beat Hastings Rugby and Sports 22-7. More thrilling grassroots rugby illustrating the strength of the game in the Hawkes Bay/Hurricanes region. Pirates will face Havelock North next week for the Maddisson Trophy, and that should be a good old fashioned ‘doozey’.
And mention also goes to all the Women’s matches/finals, the age grade, Colts and thanks to all volunteers and supporters that make our Grassroots competitions still popular in this ever-packed sports schedule. Cheers guys.
For many, our attention now turns to provincial pride when the ITM Cup competition begins on Thursday 13th, as Southland hosts Auckland. If this is not the purest form of grassroots NZ rugby at its best, then I don’t know what is. Not quite “mate against mate” but it certainly brings former Super Rugby team mates whom were formerly aligned, to meet ex-Super Rugby mates wearing their union colours. Shane Christie will look across at Elliot Dixon, Ihaia West will face-off against Bryn Hall.
This competition has two levels: the main Premiership title and the second-tier Championship. It pits the leading 14 regions in a competition based on the 7 highest ranked sides competing for the Premiership – the number one place in NZ rugby. All ITM Cup Premiership teams play against each other once, as well as four crossover matches against ITM Cup Championship teams, so those matches are true tests for teams like Southland and North Harbour in this promotion/relegation based system.
To launch this campaign, the NZ Rugby publicity machine has been working overtime, with news items and television advertisements all calling for your provincial loyalty. The season luch was at a primary school, with some sponsor events as well as players interacting with kids, but all sides present were working to generate that most important factor – public interest. Like Ranfurly Shield [I spoke of that last week] this type of traditional competition brings out the best in our rugby community. and that is never in question, but you might have to ask “in today’s hi-tech modern consumer society, how do traditional rugby competitions compete?”
For this ITM Cup preview, one positive aspect is the high-tempo scheduling that see’s ‘Thursday night-football’ return, as well as traditional Saturday and Sunday afternoon rugby that we all grew up with. All teams will play 10 regular season games (five home, five away), followed by the semifinals and Final. Each team will play one double-header – playing twice in a single round and it is this variety of matches that will engage the different fans level of interest and watching habits. Think Thursday night for the post-work mates evening out, and then Friday night where some families might decide to skip the movies and go to the Rugby.
To meet this change in viewing habits, every weeks schedule can accommodate the different needs of fans today. It will also provide a good choice for them to head along to and watch games Live or to watch on Sky TV or via a device of their choice. The product is great and whether you enjoy night-time rugby or Sunday afternoon at the park, that range will allow for viewer choice. And it will also be the USP of this competition, tht you can see you team play a night game one week and then an afternoon match the next.
PREMIERSHIP TEAMS: Taranaki Bulls, Tasman Makos, Canterbury, Auckland, Counties-Manukau Steelers, Waikato and Manawatu Turbos.
CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS: Wellington Lions, Hawke’s Bay Magpies, Northland Taniwha, Southland Stags, North Harbour, Otago Razorbacks and Bay of Plenty Steamers.
I’ll be definitely watching, and I hope to provide Last Word On Sport with a unique viewpoint in my weekly RugbyNZ_ Overview. It will be a quick cover of each game played over the seven day period, as with some sides having to compete within that seven day window, standings will only become clearer when we reach the final few weeks. But it will be riveting rugby, with many teams looking likely to seal Semi-Final spots including reigning title holders Taranaki, Auckland and Canterbury all favorites.
I also see a chance for Counties-Manukau, provided their young backline can work both on offense and defence. Tana Umaga will hope he does not have the same final ITM season as Chris Boyd did with the Wellington Lions before moving onto the Hurricanes – Lions losing more games than any other side in 2014. And I also fancy Southland to rise to the top of the Championship ladder. Itis looking like the famine will soon become a Flood. That is rugby heaven, and if the schedule offers up a game of your choice, then NZ Rugby are deserving of a nod in thanks.
Over this weekend, a number of pre-season games were played. These results will assist teams to empower their players with the structures and team cultures that will support their campaign that culminates in the ITM Cup finals: Friday 23 October [Championship] and Saturday 24 October [Premiership] By then, we will find out who prevails as the best examples of NZ Rugby. Wish all teams the best and that we see some entertaining rugby and the best teams prevail. #rugbyunited