Our rugby scribe runs the rule over the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup which gets underway on Thursday the 17th of August.
The end of the 2017 Super Rugby season has left a rather large void for rugby fans, but fret not as both the Mitre 10 Cup and NRC get underway this coming month. Below, we’ll take a look an in-depth look at this season’s Mitre 10, which will include a guide as to how the tournament is structured; which players to keep your eyes on; and which teams are likely to claim top spot in each tier.
For those who are yet to be exposed to the tournament, the most important thing to remember is that this is a two-tier competition featuring a Championship and Premiership segment. The Premiership features the top teams in the competition while the Championship features the rest. Canterbury are the reigning Premiership champions while North Harbour were promoted to the Premiership after winning last year’s Championship with Hawke’s Bay dropping to the second tier.
The tournament gets underway on Thursday the 17th of August and will run up until the 28th of October. Each team will play 10 games a piece and be involved in two fixtures in the space of seven days at some point in the season. The top four teams in each tier square off in semi-finals to see who advances to the final for each tier.
The two winning sides from the Championship semis play a final which will see the winner promoted, while the Premiership semi-final winners go head-to-head for top honours in their segment.
All of the sides will play against teams in their own tier once and will play against four opponents from the other tier. This system allows provincial derbies to remain in place.
Teams by Tier
Auckland | Canterbury | Counties Manukau | North Harbour | Taranaki | Tasman | Waikato
Bay of Plenty | Hawkes Bay | Manawatu | Northland | Otago | Southland | Wellington
Premiership Break Down and Teams to Watch
The Premiership has been dominated by Canterbury for the past decade with the reigning champions winning eight editions since 2006. Their 2017 squad will be hard hit by All Black call-ups, however, so it may be prudent to see how they start before backing them to win the tournament outright.
Player to Watch: Richie Mo’unga
The fleet-footed pivot was Canterbury’s man of the Mitre last year as he bossed the show with his slick distribution skills and educated kicking game. Young Richie was also brilliant for the Crusaders during their run to this year’s Super Rugby title. Another solid Mitre 10 showing could see the pivot force his way into the All Black squad.
There are some extremely talented players in this Auckland squad so don’t be surprised if they take the tournament by storm this year. They were extremely disappointing in 2016 and the Blues’ dreadful showing in Super Rugby will only make the Aucklanders hungrier for success. If you can find a decent outright price on them, they are certainly worth backing.
Player to Watch: Akira Ioane
The big man is on the cusp of getting himself into Steve Hansen’s squad for the next World Cup and a solid showing during the Mitre 10 could force Hansen to give him a run on debut come the final salvos of the Rugby Championship. His barnstorming runs will be crucial to Auckland getting front foot ball this term.
They were relegated from the Premiership last season so you know the motivation will be there, but my main reason for thinking this Hawke’s Bay side will dominate the second tier is the strength of their squad. Both Ihia West and Under 20-star Tiaan Falcon will feature in the side, while the squad also contains Ben May and promising young gun Tim Farrell who will both be monsters at scrum time.
Player to Watch: Tiaan Falcon
The youngster was absolutely sensational for the Baby Blacks before he was forced out of the 2017 Under 20 World Cup due to concussion. He’s another player who can play across the backline, but his most influential displays are likely to come when he has the number 10 affixed to his back.
They always lose a whole host of Hurricanes stars come the start of the Mitre 10 and this year is no different with Vince Aso and Ben May set to represent different provinces. The Wellingtonians have managed to keep a few star names on board with Reg Goodes, Wes Goosen and Julian Savea – who seems to have fallen out of favour with the All Blacks – set to turn out week in and week out. This Wellington Lions side really does look the real deal this term.
Player to Watch: Julian Savea
The ‘Bus’ really does have a point to prove during the Mitre 10 as poor Super Rugby displays saw him drop out of the All Blacks matchday 23’s to play the British and Irish Lions. A lot will depend on where he’s at mentally, but I can see the big man enjoying a stellar campaign.