After nine weeks, the short window for New Zealand domestic rugby competitions has reaches their final round. For the Mitre 10 Cup, Heartland Championship and Farah Palmer Cup leagues, the last fixtures this weekend will all determine the placings for the semifinals and playoff matches over the next two weekends.
From traditional local derby games, inter-Island matches and even a Ranfurly Shield clash [tonight] it is the height of the season. Fans, commentators and offshore observers will intently follow the results, to see how sides fair in their goals for 2017,
NZ Domestic Rugby Competitions Reach Their Final Round
Since the opening weekend on August 17, teams have played over the tightly-contested season. A ten game season [for Mitre 10 Cup] where each of the teams must play two matches in one week; a schedule where three games are played across ten days. Difficult at best, but every side faces the same ‘storm week’ and player health and management in this area is crucial.
The Heartland and Farah Palmer Cup divisions may not have to face that tight schedule, but their competition is just as fierce, and just as well supported.
In New Zealand domestic rugby, the supporters make it special. With the colour, the fans, families and the signs to show your team you are loyal. Those are the values that underpin the week-to-week competition.
MITRE 10 CUP 2017
The traditional national provincial championship (NPC) has enthralled fans for more than four decades. In it’s current form, the 14 sides that contest this competition are from the most populated centers. This includes many names known across the globe; Auckland, Waikato, Otago and Taranaki to name a few.
As the Premiership and Championship sides have played out their inter-competition games, with many cross-table matches, the favourites have performed well. Out of the 14 teams, the seven within each division have all had both good, and bad results.
The highest placed name on any list is Canterbury. Unbeatable in 2016, they appeared set for similar until Wellington turned the tables on them. A big loss has led to two further poor results, including last weekends loss of the famous Ranfurly Shield. Taken by Taranaki, a side who are now sitting at the top-of-the-table.
However, tonight Taranaki play match number two in their own ‘storm window’. Unfortunately, after that first defence, they travel to a resurgent North Harbour Stadium to face-off in a semifinal defining game. And there are also a number of other fixtures this round that will be just as critical.
The other top placed side who will want a good finish this round, is Tasman. The Makos claimed a win over Harbour last weekend, so getting past Counties-Manukau will be vital for their chances. Conversely, the Steelers will be wanting to finish on a high–to stay above the relegation zone.
- Bay of Plenty v Waikato
- Counties Manukau v Tasman
From the first division, sides below that sit in the Championship. And while not fighting for the highest level, several of the best sides have claimed a few scalps. Wellington especially, but Northland and Bay of Plenty (see main picture) have done tremendously well.
— Wellington Rugby (@WgtnRugby) October 7, 2017
In saying that, if tonight’s Shield result goes against Manawatu, and Otago claim a win in Dunedin this week, the South Island team can overtake them into a playoff position. So for the Turbos, not only could they earn the Log ‘o Wood, but may secure a semifinal finish with wins over Taranaki and/or or Hawke’s Bay this weekend.
While every other team looks to peak, the Lions from Wellington have broken records. Averaging 41 points for, and only 21 against, they have risen to the challenge in 2017. Hoping to be promoted back to the Premiership, their team looks unstoppable–but that is where the playoffs can even things out.
- Wellington v Northland
- Hawke’s Bay v Manawatu
So the excitement of New Zealand domestic rugby will reach the heights, with playoff positions up for grabs over week nine matches.
MITRE 10 HEARTLAND CHAMPIONSHIP 2017
The provincial competition of the more rural centers, has enjoyed a gain in popularity. With the unique system of a top four, next four/two-tier competition, the leading sides will be chasing hard for the Meads Cup especially this year.
In a year when NZ rugby lost the ‘Pine Tree’ the four teams that finish highest after this weekend, will reach the playoffs for the Meads Cup. And then the sides placed fifth to eighth qualify to play for the Lochore Cup.
In the championship this season, the 2016 side Wanganui have suffered rare losses. Sitting two points outside the top four, it shows how the division is more competitive. The big mover has been Horowhenua-Kapiti, lifting from ninth place. Along with North Otago who have also risen dramatically.
In the final round, teams who are sitting in the top four will need to retain their places. So for a team like Mid Canterbury or South Canterbury need to hold that form, as they enter the ‘business end’ of the season.
This means final round of fixtures have much importance. Three of the key matches to watch will be:
- Buller v Horowhenua Kapiti
- Wanganui v North Otago
- King Country v Mid Canterbury
FARAH PALMER CUP 2017
Women’s rugby is on a high. With the Rugby World Cup back in the trophy cabinet, the news is all good. And with the championship growing to 11 sides, it saw a new Premiership/Championship format introduced.
This has given new teams exposure to new competition, as well as take the women’s game to more provinces. Tasman hosting Harbour (see above) was a new experience, and a great curtain-raiser match. And many of this seasons games have supported the Mitre 10 Cup.
Over this year, many of the matches have seen evenly placed sides face each other. With less cross-table games, the six Premiership teams have played each other once and after all that, the third and fourth teams are still not secured.
Farah Palmer Cup fixtures:
- Canterbury v Wellington
- Manawatu v Counties Manukau
- Auckland v Waikato
- North Harbour v Otago (Championship)
Note: the Championship playoff system see’s the top ranked side qualify directly for the Final, with second and third meeting in a qualifiers playoff game.
With the finals planned for next weekend, and the ultimate Finals Weekend scheduled for October 27-28, follow Last Word on Rugby for all the latest results, and more.
“Main photo credit”