We preview the two blockbuster Mitre Cup Week 1 fixtures.
New Zealand’s answer to the Currie Cup, the Mitre 10 Cup, gets underway this Thursday. Unlike, the Currie Cup, the quality of rugby on show during the Mitre Cup – formerly known as the ITM Cup – gets better and better with every passing year.
Anyway, let’s get into the first week’s set of fixtures. We haven’t gone the whole hog with this one, instead, we’ve focused on two of the big games taking place this week.
North Habour v Counties Manakau | Thursday 18 August | QBE Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
North Habour 12/10 | Draw 20/1 | Counties Manakau 7/10
North Habour (+1.5) 9/10 | Counties Manakau (-1.5) 9/10
The season opener pits Championship Division side – the tournament has a really strange but entertaining format that separates sides into a two divisions, the Championship Division and the Premiership division – North Habour against Premiership side, Counties Manakau.
Both teams boast some brilliant players among their ranks although Manaku have far less household names than their opponents.Manaku will look to Canterbury Crusaders man Jimmy Tupou and Auckland Blues understudy ten, Piers Francis to spearhead the side to victory this Thursday.
As I mentioned earlier, North Habour have a much more star-studded squad than that of their opponents. James Parsons, Bryn Hall, Nic Mayhew, Rene Ranger, Matt Duffie and Tevita Lee all turned out for the Auckland Blues during their 2016 Super Rugby campaign while youngster Hapakuki Moala-Liava’a was involved with the Junior All Blacks at the Under 20 Championship.
Verdict: North Harbour 12/10
There are big things happening in the province of Auckland. Tana Umaga has started a bit of a revolution down there, which I suspect will carry through from Auckland on to Harbour. They have a nice blend of youth and experience and I reckon they are a good outside bet for the Mitre Ten Cup. They should be able to see off a decent but limited Manaku side this Thursday.
Canterbury v Auckland | Saturday 20 August | AMI Stadium | 09:35
To Win (80 Mins)
Canterbury 9/20 | Draw 20/1 | Auckland 17/10
Canterbury (-5.5) 9/10 | Auckland (+5.5) 9/10
Our second and final selected fixture of the round sees old foes Canterbury and Auckland lock horns at the ANZ Stadium. Canterbury haven’t been as hard hit as they have in the past by All Black call-ups, although they will be missing stalwarts Kieran Read, Ryan Crotty and Wyatt Crockett. They will, however, have Luke Romano available for the match as the second rower didn’t make the shortened squad for New Zealand’s first Rugby Championship against Australia.
Auckland haven’t been hit too hard by national call-ups either but it must be remembered that a lot of the Auckland Blues Super Rugby squad ply their trade for North Habour rather than the Auckland Mitre Ten Side. There are still a few players with Super Rugby experience in the squad. The Likes of Sam Pratley, Greg Pleasants-Tait, Steven Luatua, Rieko Ioane, Vince Aso, and Melani Nanai are all set to be named in Saturday’s squad.
Verdict: Auckland 17/10
The bookies have made Canterbury heavy favourites heading into this one but I reckon they’ve got it wrong. Get on Auckland at 17/10!