It will be ‘rugby overload’ come Saturday, with major semifinals this weekend across all NZ domestic competitions. The penultimate round in fact; with Mitre 10 Cup, Heartland Championship and Farah Palmer Cup finals all decided.
As the final four competitors in each division were decided from the last round of regular play, the results were all mostly predictable. Only a handful of upsets occurred–demonstrating that the highest achieving teams would qualify. Even as Hawke’s Bay denied Manawatu a place, Northland certainly deserved their place in the major semifinals.
And that was similar in both the Heartland Championship and the women’s Farah Palmer Cup. The sides who had performed the most consistently, realized their places–although Wanganui will still be disappointed to only just scrap in to the major semifinals. But even from fourth place, that Champion side still have the experience to perform to their potential.
Major Semifinals This Weekend Across All NZ Domestic Competitions
Friday October 20 (Team final placing in brackets)
Mitre 10 Cup Championship – Wellington (1) v Northland (4) 7:35pm, Westpac Stadium
Top qualifier Wellington have only lost one match this season. They appear to be the largest favourite across all major semifinals. Not discounting the heart of Northland, but the regular season result of 36-18 could well be replicated.
Key players: Jackson Garden-Bachop (voted Lions Player of the Year), Asafo Aumua is a revelation–and a threat to any defensive line. And then Brad Shields is peaking, in his final domestic season in NZ Rugby. Helping his team jump up out of the Championship would be a noteworthy Lions storyline.
Jack Goodhew is the key player for the Taniwha. His forwards will need to be at their best, and having Kara Pryor fit will give his team plenty of go-forward ball.
‘Super Saturday’ October 21
Mitre 10 Cup Championship – Bay of Plenty (2) v Otago (3) 2:35pm, Tauranga Domain
Bay of Plenty are ‘batting above their weight’ in 2017. In defeating Waikato last week, they helped relegate their neighbouring province–but the positives are that fans will be flocking into Tauranga to support ‘the Bay.
Although, they should be cautious of Otago. One of the more exciting sides in domestic rugby; if not for their attack, then their attitude. Young and looking to achieve more, this contest will actually be very even.
Key players: Mike Delany’s boot and experience will play a big role. His all round play has been significant. His partnership with Lalakai Foketi will dicatate how the backline goes. If the forwards stay organized, home advantage should bring rewards.
From Otago, Fletcher Smith has come of age. With such a young team, the Super Rugby experience is critical. Matt Faddess, Josh Ioane and NZ Provincial Baabaas captain Sam Anderson-Heather. Plus, add in the high-flying Vilimoni Koroi, and they could take the match through enthusiasm alone.
Mitre 10 Cup Premiership – Canterbury (2) v Harbour (3) 5.05pm, AMI Stadium
Canterbury were supposed to be the ‘giant’ of provincial rugby. But they underperformed against Auckland last weekend, and must revive their energy and efficiencies to hold off this challenge. But in saying that, years (and years) of finals experience might be there best asset. Cool, calm and not to be written-off.
From the North Shore of Auckland, Harbour are the more motivated side. From their first steps into the Premiership, they have wanted to regain respect. After 9 weeks, James Parsons and his men have achieved that. Retaining their consistency, and almost matching Canterbury at home, it will not be the daunting task it could once have been for Harbour team’s of old.
Key players: Braydon Ennor has shown he has the gas! He adds something, as does Mitchell Drummond. Luke Whitelock is close to being the best specialist number eight in all rugby and together, the Canterbury machine convert opportunities.
While not as fearsome, the Tom Coventry coached Harbour boast the top tryscorer, in Tevita Li. The midfield is strong; both on defence and in sharing the ball on attack and they have a solid scrum base to commit setpiece from.
Mitre 10 Cup Premiership – Taranaki (1) v Tasman (4) 7:35pm, Yarrow Stadium
Formidable and committed, that is the term that Taranaki deserve. Tough and in fact, well rested (after sending a ‘B team’ to the slaughter at Harbour 64-33). Colin Cooper would love a swansong before joining the Chiefs, and they have already swept aside Tasman once already. But, it is knockout footy.
The Makos however are motivated by history, and geography. Known as the little brother/North of Canterbury, the Tasman region has had it tough since the earthquakes, so nothing else would make fans happier than to reach a final where Canterbury are not [beaten last year 43-27 at AMI]. And they will believe they have the talent to upset the more fancied Taranaki.
Taranaki v Tasman Premier Semifinal Action
Neither side has a superior number of wins. In fact last season in the very same stage, Tasman tipped up the ‘Naki 29-41. So big plays and bigger defence will be critical.
Key players: Seta Taminivalu has been left out of the touring All Blacks, which negates the loss of Waisake Naholo. The two game breakers have similar targets on their backs, but even without Naholo, Taranaki have Declan O’Donnell and Sean Wainui, so their strengths are in their variety of backline strengths. The forwards a nuggety players, who would ‘bleed yellow and black’ for the team.
Opposing them are a mix of excitement and solidity. From James Lowe, who is rounding off his domestic rugby career in this year’s major semifinals. Ethan Blackadder is a reflection of his father Todd, but with pace and energy. Beside skipper Alex Ainley, the side go at 100% for the whole 80 minutes–so this match will not be decided til the final whistle.
Farah Palmer Cup Reaches Major Semifinals
Considering the popularity of the women’s game, fans will have an eye on the Premiership and Championship playoff matches. Defending champions, Counties Power Heat have stormed through the competition, only allowing 64 points over their line. That is half as much as the next best [Otago] so they are both high scoring, yet well drilled.
- Premiership Semifinal #1 – Counties Manukau (1) v Auckland (4), 12:00pm, Pukekohe
- Premiership #2 – Canterbury (2) v Waikato (3), 2:15pm, AMI Stadium [curtain raiser]
Broken into the two divisions, the Championship teams will play in a qualifying playoff to reach the final against Bay of Plenty Volcanix.
- Championship playoff – Otago (2) v North Harbour (3), 12:00pm, Forsyth-Barr Stadium
Mitre 10 Heartland Championship Major Semifinals
Some might think this division is the most key of the NZ domestic rugby competition. It covers the heartland provinces, where the game belongs to the community. And with the pride that it brings, all four of the major semifinals will be well supported.
- Meads Cup Semifinal – Horowhenua Kapiti (2) v Buller (3), 2:00pm, Levin
- Meads Cup Semifinal – South Canterbury (1) v Wanganui (4), 2:30pm, Ashburton
- Lochore Cup Semifinal – West Coast (6) v North Otago (7), 2:30pm, Greymouth
- Lochore Cup Semifinal – Mid Canterbury (5) v Poverty Bay (8), 2:30pm, Timaru
With the different format of the Heartland Championship, teams ranked 1-4 contest for the Meads Cup. While teams ranked 5-8 battle it out for the Lochore Cup.
As fans stay riveted from Friday night, all through this Super Saturday – that is an incredible 11 major semifinals games! And, it only gets better.
At 10:00pm* from Brisbane, the Wallabies host the All Blacks.
This will be the third Bledisloe Cup game between the famous rivals, although New Zealand have a greater recent record of seven straight wins. While advantageous, recent changes to the All Blacks squad may fall into the hands of the Wallabies.
Last Word on Rugby will have a presence at Suncorp Stadium, for a birds eye view of the result. But with so much rugby to take in, even avid rugby fans might need a holiday once the weekend has ended.
Possibly just six days rest, until we countdown to the Finals of NZ rugby domestic competitions. All the best to every one of the 24 teams competing this weekend [yes, even Australia].
* local time in Queensland. Check your timezone for regional programming schedule.
“Main photo credit”
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