The best of New Zealand’s provincial talent will be on show as another season of Mitre 10 Cup rugby kicks off.
Split into two divisions, the Championship and Premiership, 14-sides will compete between August and October. The Mitre 10 Cup’s format has often been criticised, but for 2017 at least, the status quo remains.
Regardless of an often confusing structure, the Mitre 10 Cup always provides quality rugby.
Who Can Stop Canterbury From Winning Yet Another Title?
Canterbury are the favourites once again, as well they should be after dominating the Premiership in recent years. But in 2017, the defending champs are without popular coach Scott Robertson. Fresh off his Super Rugby title win at the helm of the Crusaders, Robertson is not eligible to coach a provincial side in the Mitre 10 Cup.
Will the absence of Scott Roberston have an impact on Canterbury’s title chances? Only time will tell, but there are a number of teams capable of taking the crown from Canterbury.
Nelson-based club Tasman may just be one of those teams.
Tasman is a team bring a particular culture to the competition that makes them popular with neutrals. Many of the players actually have the original team symbol tattood to their body, representing a strong sense of loyalty to the region dating back years.
In recent years Tasman has come closer and closer to winning the title and narrowly missed out in the 2014 Premiership finale.
Despite the departure of James Lowe, the Makos will be determined on matching their rivals from down in Christchurch. Tasman and Canterbury meet in round one of competition, but there is every chance that the sides could meet in the playoffs.
The Championship Division
Bay of Plenty and Otago, are two sides with a particular point to prove.
Finalists in 2016, Otago were on their way back to the Premiership division before Bryn Gatland slotted a late drop goal for North Harbour with just moments to play in the final. As a result, Otago remain in the lower tier of the Mitre 10 Cup and will potentially face a back lash from local fans if they can’t earn promotion this year.
The same theory applies for Bay of Plenty – once a great side in Mitre 10 Cup.
It wasn’t too long ago that the team lovingly referred to as ‘The Steamers’ were ‘there or thereabouts’ in the top flight. Since the competition was broken into two divisions, Bay of Plenty have had a lean run of success. They’ve also lost the majority of their ‘Battle of the Bay’ clashes against their rivals in Hawkes Bay.
Mitre 10 Cup Ready To Show Off Best Provincial Talent In New Zealand
For all the other sides taking part in the Mitre 10 Cup this year, the sky is the limit.
In terms of the schedule, some teams will play multiple games per week. There will be limited opportunities for scouting opposition in between team meetings, travel, and full training sessions.
Opportunities to challenge Canterbury for the coveted Ranfurly Shield will be special occasions within themselves, and if a side can win that, their campaign will suddenly become a tremendous success.
The 2017 Mitre 10 Cup kicks off tonight when North Harbour play host to Otago in a rematch of last years Championship final.
“Main photo credit”