The standard bearer of New Zealand provincial rugby strength, the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship, have had their full draw announced this week.
With this schedule now known, the provincial rugby unions can begin to plan for their short term futures. From the beginning, the organization will call upon it’s staffs to now begin the much needed planning, to face another competitive season.
Mark your calendars! The draw has been set for the 2018 Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship!
— Mitre10 Cup (@Mitre10Cup) March 15, 2018
Draw Announced 2018 Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship in New Zealand
The Mitre 10 Cup kicks off on August 16 with North Harbour hosting neighbours Northland, while a repeat of the 2017 Premiership final between Canterbury and Tasman is the following night.
The 12 Heartland Championship teams kick into action a week later. Those sides are vying for the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup; the top four teams playing for the prestigious Meads Cup.
New Zealand Rugby head of Provincial Union Rugby Steve Lancaster, said “We see it every year. The [Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship] competitions highlight incredible talent and produce great rugby.
“Last year, Asafo Aumua went from playing for the Wellington Lions, to making his All Blacks debut only weeks later. Examples like that demonstrate the quality of the Mitre 10 Cup competition.
“The Mitre 10 Heartland Championship is a competition that always gets great community support and the teams deliver with passionate, hard-fought matches.”
Mitre 10 Cup – First Division level competition
Enticing first-up matches see defending champions Canterbury take on Tasman and Auckland play neighbours Counties-Manukau, on August 25. The cross competition format, see’s Premiership teams play all others, plus a handful of Championship teams.
Premiership new-comers Wellington will host Otago in the first week, of the eight week regular season. This includes one week where all teams must play three times, within a ten day period. It adds to the level of competition, as the double-round can often test sides depth.
The first division Premiership includes many of the leading provincial teams, but the next level of Championship teams, cannot be discounted. The likes of Otago, Northland and Manawatu can push any side, on their best day. However, perennial provincial champions Canterbury must too, not be taken easily [scores of 60+ points being seen in 2017].
The semifinals over both divisions will be played on October 19-20.Then the Mitre 10 Cup Championship final to be played on Friday October 26. The Premiership final is scheduled for Saturday October 27.
Heartland Championship – the community level competition
The Mitre 10 Heartland Championship plays an eight-week modified round robin, to determine which four of the 12 teams compete for the Meads Cup, and which four compete for the Lochore Cup.
The Heartland rugby schedule is as much about the matches, as it is the ‘event’ that it creates in the community. Often the town comes to a stop, as smaller centers embrace the teams. Family members and friends play bigger roles in Heartland rugby, and the amateur status means players sacrifice more, and respect the match for it’s values and challenges.
Fans will be excited for Week One match ups. That see’s defending champions Wanganui, host South Canterbury (who finished top of the table in round robin last season). The multiple time champs always begin the season as the province to measure teams against.
Another hotly contested Week One match will see 2017 Meads Cup finalists Horowhenua Kapiti hosting Lochore Cup champions, Mid Canterbury. That will be a huge weekend in Levin, as the community will revolve festivities around match day.
Semifinals for both Cups will be played on October 20, with finals to be played the following weekend; October 26-27.
Ranfurly Shield still holds it’s Place
The Ranfurly Shield was secured in 2017 by Taranaki, after their dramatic win over Canterbury. This season they will face stiff challenges from Manawatu, Waikato, Auckland, North Harbour and Wellington–dependant on challenge results.
The shield holds it’s place in the rugby community, in the same way that the Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship have their loyal fanbases. The long history means that the above challengers not only have points to acquire, but to leave Taranaki with the Ranfurly Shield, would be the icing on the cake.
As well as the Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship, the Farah Palmer Cup will be contested for. Not released at this stage, New Zealand Rugby say in the media release ‘the Farah Palmer Cup draw is expected to be announced in April, following the closure of team entries.’
Players and Provinces can now plan for August Start
With the 2018 schedules now known, it is time for players to look at their own timeline. That will begin with club competition, which begin up and down the country, before Easter. Then they can look to be selected for their provincial trial teams. Then, by July, the squads are named and must all be ready for the official August 16 launch of Mitre 10 Cup and Heartland Championship [one week later].
For fans of both, that timeline cannot come soon enough.
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