Last week, New Zealand (NZ) Rugby kicked off it’s National Provincial Championship. The Mitre 10 Cup will see the top 14 sides in the country face each other in a Premiership/Championship competition. Over the course of this season, follow all the results with the ‘NZ Rugby Grandstand’.

Week One Mitre 10 Cup

Results: North Harbour 20 Manukau-Counties 17 | Northland 27 Manawatu 34 | Bay of Plenty 22 Taranaki 30 | Hawke’s Bay 26 Wellington 36 | Canterbury 43 Auckland 3 | Southland 17 Otago 40 | Tasman 24 Waikato 19

Visiting QBE Stadium to witness the start to the calendar season. While not a ‘sell out’ the loyal fans enjoyed a First XV final to open the evening. Then the big boys ran out. Counties-Manukau had a warm-up facing the All Blacks in a trial game, and while there were some mistakes, it was an enthralling match, won by the home side.

HARvCOU
Jimmy Tupou leads the team on to the field during the match between North Harbour and Counties Manukau at QBE Stadium (Getty Images)

Many of this first weeks results saw over 25 points on average scored. That was not only due to the introduction of new Trial Laws, but also because teams wanted to start well. Over the seven matches, tries were scored–six teams gained bonus points from scoring four tries in week one.

Bonus points will be crucial

A point of contention in Super Rugby, gladly the Mitre 10 Cup rewards teams who cross the white line. Fans love tries, so expect plenty of action. And games like Hawke’s Bay v Wellington were full of entertainment. As was the Northland v Manawatu result. So early in the season, teams took every opportunity and the Taniwha earned two competition points in a valiant loss.

Contrasting that, and a scary result from the reigning champions, Canterbury demolished Auckland. It was a superb first half, 29-3 and they had achieved what the All Blacks did later that night. A blitz took the wind out of Auckland’s sails.

Some favourites were in good early form, while Waikato lost their match right at the death to only walk away with a losing bonus point. They will need to bounce back fast, as they intend to defend the Ranfurly Shield on Saturday.

Week Two continues excitement

Now each side has broken their shoes in, coaches will be asking for more. Possibly not Scott Robertson, as his Canterbury side looked very strong. They will play their Crusaders franchise partner–perfect time for the Crusaders new head coach to view 2017 players. It is more than that though. the Mitre 10 Cup is practically ‘mate against mate’.

It’s also about tradition. Think Auckland v Northland, Taranaki v Hawke’s Bay, as well as Counties-Manukau v Bay of Plenty. There will be old rivalries across the entire competition, so the NZ Rugby Grandstand is proud to report on the results from games that carry on a strong rugby tradition.

Match of the round: While you cannot go past a Shield challenge, others will say that Otago v Wellington is critical. The Championship is not a bottom tier, as the sides are just as motivated. A rich history means the South v North fight continues. Who will break open the defence? and which team can interpret the law changes best? Plenty to answer on Thursday night.

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Very hard to doubt the quality of the game in NZ. Standards are high in every aspect, from the school’s age grade to the professional level. That blends into club rugby and through to the Mitre 10 Cup. Passing and tackling are simple attributes, but the combination is strong–just as with the senior All Blacks team.

ALL BLACKS 42 WALLABIES 8

A perfect seat allowed Last Word On Sports to witness firsthand the complete package that is an All Blacks away victory. They out-performed the Australian team to such a large degree that home fans were leaving ANZ Stadium even while Nick Phipps was crossing for a consolation try.

That was the sentiment from the rugby public–if we have a chance to win, we’ll support the team. With little chance after 40 minutes, the fans turned their backs and then the media sharpened their knives.

That was hard to witness, especially as rumours of ‘espionage’ sought to deflect the matchday build-up but the visiting team just played at a level that was near-on untouchable. Steve Hansen reflected on the team mindset post match:

“All week we talked about making sure we turned up with the right attitude. And we did that during the week. In a real mindset to get out here [Sydney] to exert ourselves on the game with an intensity and pace and a skillset that suits us, and not them. Things went our way, Australia were unlucky and the ball went our way. We’ll take it”

Australia v New Zealand
Kane Hames of the All Blacks runs the ball during the Bledisloe Cup Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at ANZ Stadium on August 20, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Getty Images)

The value of competitions like the Mitre 10 Cup can be directly related to the debut of new All Black Kane Hames (pictured). Representing the Bay of Plenty, he has progressed through to Super Rugby–the Highlanders and now the Chiefs. His time on the field Saturday underlines the importance of the games base and provincial rugby system in NZ rugby.

It will be a huge test for the Wallabies who fly into Wellington on Wednesday, but you can never count out a team in The Rugby Championship. Expect a ‘backlash’ of sorts–expect some fireworks!

Riches in NZ Rugby

Besides all that, the riches continue. After several weeks, the Women’s Provincial Championship, the Farah Palmer Cup, is continuing to be a symbol for young women to shine. The fastest growing sector within the game, girls and women are enjoying rugby and it is evident in the matches.

Auckland are the ultimate champions, with eight successive titles, and are leading the standard again. Can the other sides begin to challenge the blue and white hoops? Expect to see many more exciting matches over the seven round competition.

The high quality extends through to the Heartland Championship. The grassroots of the provincial program, here 12 teams will challenge for the next level below Mitre 10 Cup. It is semi-professional, with players still working day jobs, so respect must be given for all the players.

With teams stretching from the East Coast to the West Coast and beyond, travel can often be a big factor so when this competition kicks off Saturday, expect the cream to rise early. The best prepared sides aim for the Colin Meads Cup – competed between the top four finishing sides.

NZ Rugby Grandstand

Follow all the action across the nine week Mitre 10 Cup, culminating in the final played over the Labour Weekend holiday. Plenty will transpire up til then, as the leading sides hope to compete in the Premiership. But don’t count out any Championship sides ‘turning over’ the opposition. The standard is so high, inspired by the All Blacks and Women’s Olympic Sevens teams silver medal success–the biggest winners will be the fans.

Look forward to week two kicking off on Thursday night.

“Main photo credit”

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