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1/2 way scrum during the round seven Mitre 10 Cup match between Wellington and Southland at Westpac Stadium on September 30, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Over the course of this season, teams have been cautiously building. Some began ‘hot’ in week one while others have built into their work. That is how it has transpired over the final week of competition.

In the ninth week, all 14 Mitre 10 Cup sides are focused on their objective-reaching the Semi Finals. Over in the Heartland Championship, Wanganui started true to form–while King Country have slowly build to the final week of competition. Two separate strategies, both wanting to now peak at the right-end of the season.

Final Week of Competition

The Mitre 10 Cup kicked off on August 18th in Albany. Last Word On Sports has been there from the start and are excited to see the final week of competition, prior to the knockout stages.

The top sides have reinforced their standing–Canterbury being the number one seeded team, like they have for a number of years. Coach Scott Robertson has led the side to just the single loss all season, and they will host one of the semi final matches.

Traveling up to Auckland, they will face another leading side in Counties-Manukau. It will be a tough challenge, to visit ECOlight Stadium and attempt to take points away, as the Steelers will be full of purpose. Expect the 2:35pm fixture to be one of the more important of this week, and of this year.

Battle of the Bay

Each season, the primary provincial championship fixture for both Hawke’s Bay and Bay of Plenty is the ‘Battle of the Bay’. A test of the local hotspots, who each claim to be, the real Bay. In 2016, it is also going to be a real test for the Bay of Plenty teams goals–they may be able to reach the semi finals.

That would be amazing for two reasons. (1) it would be the first time in years that the Steamers managed the feat, and (2) they achieved this from only four victories [tbc]. A minimal quantity, but the bonus point system means that with 10 points gained, it could see them appear in a semi final.

On the other hand, Hawke’s Bay might spoil the party, They can take the win, deny the Central North Island teams chances. Parochially, the bragging rights will the theirs for the 2016/17 seasons–to call themselves ‘the Bay’. It might salvage some pride, from a poor Premiership season.

Capital match-up

Wellington are; like Otago, certain to host a semi final of the Championship. It is a key achievement, as the Wellington side have goals of returning to the top-tier Premiership next season. Waikato are in that top-tier and by winning on this Super Saturday, can hold down the capitol side and promote themselves into a semi final.

It did not seem likely, after repeated losses to the Sean Botherway coached team. They had lost the Ranfurly Shield, so had to reassess their goals–claiming a semi final is now ‘top of the list’.

And that is similar to other sides…they did not achieve goal number one, so the focus is shifted and reaffirmed on a collective goal. Like Counties, Waikato must first win before they need to rely on other results to confirm the final placings. A very exciting end is likely, with Saturday matches proving vital to many teams chances.

Heartland Championship top four to be confirmed

The numbers game is not always as exciting as the 80 minute game, but in week eight of the Championship, results will confirm who can go forward to play for the Meads Cup.

The top four sides will play-off for the iconic prize. And the current holder Wanganui are certain of one place already. So with ‘a hand on the Cup’ they are best placed–with only Horowhenua-Kapiti sitting in their way.

In Taupo, the action will be red-hot. King Country will be aiming for maximum points, to give them their best shot. In a ‘make or break situation’ they will hit Buller with everything they have, and the same can be said of the visitors.

Buller are a quiet achiever, with five solid wins that may be a great base for a play-off berth. But they cannot sit back–these final games are warm-ups, if also a chance to hold down their competition. Buller would do favours for both Mid Canterbury and Wairarapa Bush, if they stopped the King Country team in their tracks.

Canterbury fight-off for Top Four place

The fenceline fight in Timaru could be monumental. The Mid Canterbury side hold an advantage in recent wins, but a distraction could derail their chances. Reports out that a player maybe facing a court date for a sexual assault come at a the wrong time.

NZ Rugby have had many dramas, and this might just be one act too many. With the subject still sensitive, the Mid Canterbury organisation must hope the team runs out onto the field fully-focused.

If they are not, then South Canterbury might steal a famous win. Higher in the standings, the southern team need the win to secure a home semi final but their neighbours are always up for a local battle.

Masterton to enjoy a late afternoon match-up

In the last match of our six Heartland Championship fixtures, Wairarapa Bush could put themselves into a knockout match for the Meads Cup. Against East Coast, teams have held them winless in 2016 but the Wairarapa side need to secure the game first.

Under the trial laws and trial scoring system, East Coast have put many points on the board, so defense will be a keypoint. Four tries secures a bonus point, but first they must win. And that goes for every match across today. Win the game first, then secure any bonus points (that is why they call them that, I guess)

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Super Saturday–follow the action on the field

Mitre 10 Cup – Counties-Manukau v Canterbury, Pukekohe | Hawke’s Bay v Bay of Plenty, Napier | Wellington v Waikato, Westpac Stadium

Heartland Championship – Thames Valley v Poverty Bay, Te Aroha | Wanganui v Horowhenua Kapiti, Cooks Gardens | West Coast v North Otago, Greymouth | King Country v Buller, Taupo | South Canterbury v Mid Canterbury, Timaru | Wairarapa Bush v East Coast, Masterton.

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