Mitre 10 Cup Rd 3 - Bay of Plenty v Otago
TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Callum Retallick leads Bay of Plenty out for the round three Mitre 10 Cup match between Bay of Plenty and Otago on September 4, 2016 in Tauranga, New Zealand. (Photo by Kerry Marshall/Getty Images)

The matches are coming thick-and-fast in this years Mitre 10 Cup. With mid-week Wednesday night games beginning, it built on a great start to the season. With all this rugby, there is enough to fill this NZ Rugby Grandstand column and more.

Week Three coincided with a break in The Rugby Championship, so a small handful of players were released. All Blacks, including Lima Sopoaga and Patrick Tuipulotu enjoyed the high-pace matches, due to new trial laws. Having to adapt would be a positive experience, to see how provincial and club players had understood the new breakdown philosophies.

And those subtle changes at the ruck were making the results very interesting indeed in Week Three of competition.

Mitre 10 Cup Results – Week Three

Results: Wednesday 31 August – Otago 33 Northland 28 | Thursday 1 September – Hawke’s Bay 20 Counties-Manukau 48 | Friday 2 September – Southland 16 Auckland 51 | Saturday 3 September – Tasman 25 Taranaki 20 | Wellington 21 North Harbour 17 | Northland 34 Canterbury 52 | Sunday 4 September – Bay of Plenty 32 Otago 33 | Waikato 19 Manawatu 10 (Ranfurly Shield)

Eight matches, and eight fine games. Promoters of the competition will be happy with the quality of games, and in the number of points scored. An average winning score of 35 points is sure evidence of ‘the ball doing the talking’.

Matches of note included the Tasman v Taranaki game. The ‘Naki have been consistently a high performing unit, yet a courageous Tasman withstood and executed best. So too in Wellington. North Harbour led at halftime and would feel for a second week, they ‘could have’ pulled out the big one. The Lions are tough and even without scoring any tries, needed that win (after a loss to Otago).

Credit should go to Northland. Playing two matches this week, some had predicted that the top-of-the-table encounters; Otago on Wednesday, and Canterbury on Saturday night might end in a tidal wave of points. But they actually challenged for long periods–Otago only bettered them after 70 minutes, while Canterbury slowly took control. Yes, they conceded 85 points but still scored 62 themselves. Full of heart, the Taniwha cannot be discounted.

Rugby on a sunny afternoon

Fans are so used to watching Super Rugby at night, they have forgotten the pleasure of a daytime match. Bay of Plenty hosted Otago, and with the smell of hot dogs and sight of kids on a blow-up slide, it is what makes NZ rugby great. Oh yes, there was a match too–The Bay (main picture) were so very close to tipping up the table leaders.

Foketi hatrick
Terrence Hepetema and Lalakai Foketi of Bay of Plenty celebrate a try during the round three Mitre 10 Cup match (Getty)

Won on a penalty goal, the match had some fine moments. The score was edged out by Otago, but the highlight package will surely detail how centre Lalaki Foketi took the ball under his arm with style. Exhibiting good support play, Foketi was almost a game changer with his hat-trick. Not quite, but it held the crowds attention and made fans remember why they bring the family to the park.

In another tough Ranfurly Shield defence, Last Word On Sports reporter Mike Pulman would have had concerns for the Waikato reign. Offering the prize up to Manawatu, that side had been accurate and made the most of their chances. Mike’s match report shows the tight nature of the game, that had Waikato stretched–fortunately they had the fortitude to overcome the pressure.

Note: reports point to Damian McKenzie suffering a concussion, so with the test match on Saturday against Argentina, fans hope he can recover fully. That type of injury has a prolonged effect, so caution should be taken. LWOS wish him all the best, as we do for the NZLvARG match on Saturday 10 September.

Standings after Week Three: Premiership – Canterbury 15 | Counties 11 | Taranaki 10 | Auckland 10 | Waikato | Tasman 8 | Hawke’s Bay 2

Championship – Otago 20* | Manawatu 10 | Wellington 9 | North Harbour 5 | Northland 4* | Bay of Plenty 4 | Southland 2  (*played four games)

Match of the Round: Southland 16 Auckland 51

Invercargill put on perfect conditions on Friday night. That maybe a story in itself, but the result was surely not worth broadcasting south of the Bombays. After their first round hammering by Canterbury, it is the Auckland teams second victory but their most impressive.

After a standard first half, the match came to life. First with two yellow cards handed to the home side, it appeared to play into Auckland’s hands. Nobody checked with veteran Jimmy Cowan. His men gained territory and the bulldog halfback crossed. Fans cheered but amazingly, the opposing side then received a boost of adrenaline–All Blacks Patrick Tuipulotu used his bulk and experience to begin a steamroller strategy.

If we mention a machine, you need to identify Akira Ioane (above) as one big unit. His single 50 metre run has taken a highlight spot for 2016, and the inside pass was a beauty. His ‘little’ brother Rieko collected a try, as Auckland pushed away from being 16-23 to add 28 points in under 14 minutes.

MVP – Jordan Taufua

The Counties-Manukau flanker has not only brought his constant Crusaders form to the ‘Steelers’ but he is a try scoring machine. Two in the match against the Hawke’s Bay win 20-48. Beside Jimmy Tupou, the ultra-strong Taufua is creating a standard for others to follow.

Counties-Manukau captain Augustine Pulu said: “I’m proud of the boys. Hawke’s Bay has a lot of strike power and we knew it was going to be a tough fight so I’m proud of the boys for holding strong.”

By the end of the weekend, Taufua shared the table with Bay of Plenty’s Lalakai Foketi, four tries each so far.

HASvCOU
Jordan Taufua of Counties-Manukau trybound during the Mitre 10 Cup match between Hawke’s bay and Counties Manaukau at McLean Park (Getty)

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Mitre 10 Heartland Championship – Week Two

Results: Saturday September 3 – King Country 30 Poverty Bay 24 | North Otago 30 Thames Valley 22 | West Coast 20 Sth Canterbury 58Buller 34 Mid Canterbury 32 | East Coast 08 Wanganui 74 | Horowhenua Kapiti 22 Wairarapa Bush 32

Still only two rounds into the season, the pace setters maybe hard yet to spot. All except for Wanganui that is–their second consecutive 74 point result reinforces their undenied favouritism. South Canterbury too had a good scoreline, and the new six point tries are adding to the higher scorelines of 2016.

ECSvWAN
Loni Fisiihoi of East Coast gets a pass away during the round two Mitre 10 Heartland Championship match in Ruatoria, (Getty)

Beside East Coast and the South Island’s West Coast, sides are pushing hard to score four tries or more to secure a bonus point. Poverty Bay did well, even while losing to King Country, as did Buller in winning late in their match. James Lash kicked a dropped goal in the last minute, and both sides have stepped up.

Standings: Wanganui 10 pts | Sth Cant. 10 | King Cty 9 | Mid Cant. 7 | Nth Otago 7 | Pov-Bay 6 | Wai-Bush 6 | Buller 6 | Horo-Kapiti 5 | Thames Valley 3 | East Cst 1 | West Cst 0

LWOS believe in the first four rounds, the leading sides should hope to gain a minimum of 12-15 points. Matches this week and next will be the acid test. Travel will begin to play a part for those new players, not used to the home-and-away schedule.

As much as it applies to the amateur ranks of the Heartland Championship sides, semi-professional players and fulltime contracted players also need to adapt with travel. In the level below Super Rugby, the distance may not be as far, but the outcome will be decided by the same attention to detail. Good recovery, awareness of the opposition strengths and to organize a team approach to aim for a win.

Across all the competitions, including the Farah Palmer Cup, Women’s Provincial Championship, the aim is always the same. Go out there and perform to your best. If teams like Northland and Poverty Bay can bring all those attribute to bear, they will likely upset some more fancied teams. It is the nature of the competition–watch your back every week!

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Look out for next week’s edition of the NZ Rugby Grandstand, for a focus on the women’s game. Auckland still lead the way, alongside Counties-Manukau, and their encounter in two weeks may settle the top seeded side for 2016.

The All Blacks play Argentina in Hamilton on Saturday, as the Australian Wallabies host the Springboks in Brisbane.

Across the rugby world, the schedule is full to overflowing. From French Top 14 (where Dan Carter is playing like a 30 year old) and as the Premiership kicks off in England, when you look at the rugby in New Zealand–it stacks up very, very well.

“Main photo credit”

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