20 Dec

New Domestic Competition for 2011
by Tracey Nelson
20 Dec 2009

Air-NZ-Cup-Logo3A new domestic competition structure and player contract agreement has been announced for the 2011 season.

The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) and the New Zealand Rugby Players Association (NZRPA) have agreed settlement terms for a new Collective Employment Agreement for 2010 to 2012, and decided upon the structure of the domestic competition.

The competition will remain at 14 teams for 2010, with a full round robin followed by semi-finals and a final exactly as the 2009 competition was played. But in 2011 the 14 teams will split into two divisions of seven teams, based on their fiinishing positions in the 2010 competition. The top seven sides from 2010 will form the 2011 Premiership, and the bottom seven will form the Championship.

Within the Premiership and Championship, each team will play the other teams in their division plus four teams from the other division (a total of 10 games). The process on how teams will select their cross-division opponents will be finalised early next year. All ten matches will carry full competition points. There will also be automatic promotion/relegation, with th winner of the Championship receiving automatice promotion to the Premiership while the seventh placed side in the Premiership will drop down to the Championship for the following season.

So this will create a lot of interest in the 2010 ANZC season, with all games having a huge bearing on deciding the split of teams into the two divisions for 2011. However, the first season of the Premiership and Championship format will be restricted to an eight week window due to the hosting of the Rugby World Cup. This will result in three mid-week matches over the eight weeks of the compeition, and there will be no semi-finals that year. From 2012 the competition will commence mid August and be played over 12 weeks.

Player contracting and the salary cap will also change. The Provincial Union Salary Cap will no longer include notional values, but discounts for All Blacks, veteran players and injuries will continue. The level of the new Salary Cap will be set at the lesser of:

  • $1.35m; or
  • 36% of a Province’s commercial revenue based on prior years.

This is a reduction on the current cap of $2.2 million (which included notional values).

The revenue sharing model introduced in 2005 will continue, with the Player Payment Pool to be used for Player payments and initiatives agreed at 36 per cent of the Player Generated Revenue (this inludes all NZRU broadcasting revenue, sponsorship and match-day revenue). Franchise Revenue above a total revenue level across the five New Zealand Franchises of $24 million per annum will also added to the PPP from 2011.

The maximum amount provinces will be able to play an individual player will be capped at $60K, with the exception of two marquee players who will be capped at $90K. Any exisiting provincial union contracts in excess of $60K will be added to that player’s NZRU contract and become payable out of the Player Payment Pool.

Franchises will be allocated a budget from within the Player Payment Pool with a maximum amount that a Franchise will be able to pay a player to be agreed. The existing Wider Training Group of a further eight players per Franchise will remain.

The settlement terms will now be drafted into a full Collective Agreement which will be presented to the respective stakeholders for final ratification. Further details of the agreement will be announced once those processes are concluded.

27 Oct

Can A Great Competition Get Better
by Tracey Nelson
27 Oct 2009

There are many reasons to love our domestic rugby competition, the Air New Zealand Cup. We also saw that the magic still exists when Southland took the Ranfurly Shield off Canterbury last week. But with the shadow of demotion facing four of the fourteen sides, is there a way to make this competition even better?

History was made in the last round with Southland lifting the Shield off Canterbury – a feat all the more remarkable because it had been 50 years since they last held the Log of Wood. If any grey-suited NZRU member had any doubts over what the Shield means to New Zealand rugby, they needed only to look at the two sides when the final whistle blew on Thursday night. One side had their arms held aloft to the heavens with many players actually leaping in the air with delight, whilst the other side stood as one with heads downcast and shoulders sagged.

Likewise, the week before we had seen an epic game where the lead see-sawed and it was only the individual contributions of All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter that saw Canterbury get up over Hawkes Bay. Hawkes Bay, at that stage with no current All Blacks in their side, had pushed a team boasting eight All Blacks to the very limit before being denied a potential draw at the final whistle. But there in lies the rub.

The All Blacks have, for all intents and purposes, been withdrawn from the ANZC and were it not for the five week gap between the end of the Tri-Nations and the start of the end of year tour to the northern hemisphere, they wouldn’t feature in the competition at all. But because they need match time and a gallop before going on tour, they are thrust back into the competition for a couple of weeks in October – around weeks 11 and 12, which is basically coming into the business end of the draw as places for the semis are starting to heat up.

It seems inherently unfair that teams like Northland, Counties, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu and Tasman have a 23-man squad that play week in and week out, with the associated player/injury management required for the duration of a 13 week competition (and longer if you make the play-offs), yet teams like Canterbury, Wellington, Auckland and Waikato essentially have a squad of 28+ players that they can rotate and rest because of All Blacks popping in to play a couple of games just at the point of the competition where player wear and tear starts to mount up.

If we must have the ABs coming back in to play the odd game here and there, despite the fact that overall the ANZC is apparently a bit beneath them to play more than two or three games because they need a rest after playing six games over a three month period, then perhaps the following rules should apply:

1. Any province can nominate up to three of their current All Blacks (ie. have played in the Tri-Nations) to turn out for them during the comp.

2. The remaining All Blacks from that province go into a pool that provinces who have no All Blacks at all (eg. Counties, Manawatu, Northland etc) get first dibs at – and they can pick up to three All Blacks. Teams with major injuries to key players/positions get first choice of the pool to fill that position.

3. Any remaining ABs in the pool can then be picked up by any other province not already fielding 3 All Blacks.

So teams like Northland, Counties, Manawatu with no All Blacks get 3 from the pool. A team like Southland with just one All Black would be eligible to get two from the pool.

Using this structure All Blacks would still get some game time prior to an EOYT, but it wouldn’t create the huge imbalances you see – for example, when Canterbury took on Hawkes Bay with eight All Blacks, because we all know that without those All Blacks Canterbury would have lost that game. It would also mean that the smaller provinces and the players would get the benefits of having some All Blacks spending time with them.

Given the the NZRU sold out our domestic competition by agreeing to extend the Tri-Nations into September and insist on treating ABs as demi-gods when it comes to participating in provincial rugby, then I think it’s only fair that they should be dispensed in equal amounts into the competition to compensate. As it stand at the moment it makes it a farce that the big guns suddenly overtake the so-called minnows solely due to having their All Blacks back en masse for a few games.

It could also potentially sort out the salary cap problem too, because a province would then only ever be covering the salary of three All Blacks – and if a minnow province felt that they couldn’t afford All Blacks for a couple of games then they wouldn’t have to pick them out of the pool.

Food for thought?

22 Oct

Race for the Semis
by Tracey Nelson
22 Oct 2009

We’ve reached the final round of the ANZC competition, and places for the semi finals are still up in the air with only Canterbury guaranteed of being in the play-offs before this weekend’s games are decided. So what are scenarios?

Canterbury are sitting in 1st place on 46 points. Regardless of whether Canterbury win or lose (although if they lose this game they also lose the Ranfurly Shield) to Southland, they are guarenteed of finishing in 1st place due to being 7 points ahead on the leaderboard from second-placed Wellington.

Wellington are currently sitting second on 39 points.. If Wellington win away against Tasman this Friday, they sew up second place regardless of whether or not they win with a bonus point. However, should they lose this game they could miss out on the semis if Southland, Waikato/Auckland and Hawkes Bay all win their games. A loss with the loser’s bonus point could see them potentially finish in 4th place behind both Waikato and Hawkes Bay if they win their games – all three sides could finish on 40 points but because Wellington lost to Waikato in round robin play they would finish behind Waikato.

Southland are currently sitting third on 37 points. Should they lose to Canterbury they risk missing out on the semis if Hawkes Bay wins, becuase either one of Waikato or Auckland will overtake Southland when that game is played on Saturday night. So to make the semis Southland must either win the Ranfurly Shield, or hope that Hawkes Bay is beaten by Northland.

Waikato are currently 4th on 36 points. They can make the semis by beating Auckland, and could potentially finish in scond place if both Wellington and Southland lose this weekend. A loss, even with the bonus point, will see them miss out if Hawkes Bay wins against Northland.

Hawkes Bay are just outside the top four, sitting on 36 points but behind Waikato as the Mooloos won the round robin game between the two sides. Hawkes Bay need to win their game against Northland to have any hope of making the semis. If they win that game then they also need one of the following to occur: Canterbury to beat Southland, Tasman to beat Wellington, or Auckland to beat Waikato. If any of those events occur and Hawkes Bay win their game, they could finish as high as second should Wellington lose to Tasman.

Auckland are in 6th place on 35 points. They can make the semis by beating Waikato and hoping that Canterbury beats Southland. They could even finish as high as second if those two things happen, and also both Wellington and Hawkes Bay lose their games.

The deciding games this weekend are:

Thurs 7.30pm: Canterbury v Southland (Ranfurly Shield)
Fri 7.30pm: Northland v Hawkes Bay and Tasman v Wellington
Sat 7.30pm: Waikato v Auckland

22 Oct

Race for the Semi Finals
by Tracey Nelson
22 Oct 2009

We’ve reached the final round of the ANZC competition, and places for the semi finals are still up in the air with only Canterbury guaranteed of being in the play-offs before this weekend’s games are decided. So what are scenarios?

Canterbury are sitting in 1st place on 46 points. Regardless of whether Canterbury win or lose (although if they lose this game they also lose the Ranfurly Shield) to Southland, they are guarenteed of finishing in 1st place due to being 7 points ahead on the leaderboard from second-placed Wellington.

Wellington are currently sitting second on 39 points.. If Wellington win away against Tasman this Friday, they sew up second place regardless of whether or not they win with a bonus point. However, should they lose this game they could miss out on the semis if Southland, Waikato/Auckland and Hawkes Bay all win their games. A loss with the loser’s bonus point could see them potentially finish in 4th place behind both Waikato and Hawkes Bay if they win their games – all three sides could finish on 40 points but because Wellington lost to both sides in round robin play they would finish behind them.

Southland are currently sitting third on 37 points. Should they lose to Canterbury they risk missing out on the semis if Hawkes Bay wins, becuase either one of Waikato or Auckland will overtake Southland when that game is played on Saturday night. So to make the semis Southland must either win the Ranfurly Shield, or hope that Hawkes Bay is beaten by Northland.

Waikato are currently 4th on 36 points. They can make the semis by beating Auckland, and could potentially finish in scond place if both Wellington and Southland lose this weekend. A loss, even with the bonus point, will see them miss out if Hawkes Bay wins against Northland.

Hawkes Bay are just outside the top four, sitting on 36 points but behind Waikato as the Mooloos won the round robin game between the two sides. Hawkes Bay need to win their game against Northland to have any hope of making the semis. If they win that game then they also need one of the following to occur: Canterbury to beat Southland, Tasman to beat Wellington, or Auckland to beat Waikato. If any of those events occur and Hawkes Bay win their game, they could finish as high as second should Wellington lose to Tasman.

Auckland are in 6th place on 35 points. They can make the semis by beating Waikato and hoping that Canterbury beats Southland. They could even finish as high as second if those two things happen, and also both Wellington and Hawkes Bay lose their games.

The deciding games this weekend are:

Thurs 7.30pm: Canterbury v Southland (Ranfurly Shield)
Fri 7.30pm: Northland v Hawkes Bay and Tasman v Wellington
Sat 7.30pm: Waikato v Auckland

7 Aug

ANZC – Bring it On!
by Tracey Nelson
7 Aug 2009

Thank goodness for the Air New Zealand Cup competition. At a time when we are all feeling rather jaded after a few poor All Black performances and a less than satisfactory Super 14, it’s been refreshing to get back to basics with New Zealand provincial rugby.

Despite the looming cull of four teams from the Premier Division at the end of this season, the crowds have been good and the rugby has been of a far more entertaining and error-free standard than is usual for the start of our domestic competition. Interestingly enough, the television audiences for the opening round have been better than those for most of the S14 games – although if you bothered to watch any of the games (with the possible exception of the Southland v Waikato match) you could see why. None of the same-old same- old in this competition, instead we have many different styles of rugby on offer and what a breath of fresh air that has been.

From the Run It At All Times style of Counties-Manukau through to the good old fashioned forward play of the likes of Southland and Otago, there is something for everyone – and better yet, we get to see contrasting styles of rugby instead of the kick-fest that was Super 14 2009. Add to that the lack of TMOs for this competition, and suddenly we are seeing Assistant Referees actually moving to get into good position to make their rulings and giving the referee something other than a feeble shrug of the shoulders and a referral to the replay upstairs.

Of great interest in the first round was three of the five Super franchise bases losing their opening matches, with Canterbury going down by three points to Harbour, Waikato dipping out to Southland in Invercargill, and most tellingly Hawkes Bay giving Auckland a spanking in their first win over the Queen City boys since 1974. Hawkes Bay not only out-passioned Auckland, but comprehensively outplayed them in the contact area stealing ball at the breakdown almost at will at times, and showing far more organisation and accuracy on the counterattack.

Not only is contesting in the lineout evident in our domestic competition, but to everyone’s delight the rolling maul is still alive and well in New Zealand. Perhaps it’s time the All Black coaches got themselves back to grass roots because there are plenty of sides in this country that employ the rolling maul – they just don’t happen to be Super 14 sides.

I suppose it’s the David v Goliath factor that most endears our provincial competition to us, that and the tribalism – something you tend to forget about until it comes to this time of the year. But when you see supporters decked out in their team colours, especially the likes of the Bucket Heads from Manawatu, it fair strikes a chord deep down and you can’t help but cheer along with them. It probably helps that the rugby we are seeing is actually recognisable as rugby too, the way we used to know and love the game. So far it’s been great viewing, and judging by the crowds we’re seeing in the provincial centres the nation are sending the NZRU a big message. Long may our provincial competition rule supreme!

19 Feb

ANZC 2009 draw unveiled
by Tracey Nelson
19 Feb 2009

The draw for the 2009 Air New Zealand Cup was released today, with highlights being a Round One defence of the Ranfurly Shield by Wellington, plenty of afternoon local derbys and games on August 22, September 12 and 19 brought forward so as not to clash with All Black test matches.

The competition itself kicks off on Thursday evening of July 30 and will procede over the next 15 weeks. It is a full round robin format with all teams playing each other.This year there are no quarter-finals, so the semis will occur immediately after the finish of the round robin format and play out at Labour Weekend (Oct 31/Nov 1) with the finals taking place on November 7th.

Wellington, who are the current holders of the Ranfurly Shield, will face a first up challenge from Otago. If they successfully defend the shield against them, they go on to face challenges from Canterbury (Round 4) and Auckland (Round 5). Should they survive those, there will be a repeat of last year’s thriller when Southland get a challenge in Round 9.

However, fans hoping to see the All Blacks in action during this year’s ANZC will be sorely disappointed. While last year’s competition, spanning 13 weeks, saw the top All Blacks enter into the action around the final three weeks of play, this year we are unlikely to see any of them pull on their provincial jumpers. The ANZC will now take 16 weeks to complete – three longer than last year – and with overlaps with TriNations tests in August and September, and the end of year tour commencing in early November, the window for the top players to rest will coincide fairly and squarely with the ANZC.

And it gets worse. Given that the All Black selectors will undoubtedly be looking at a touring squad numbering around 30 or more, there is every likelihood that key players for the top finishing provincial teams will be pulled from the ANZC when named in the All Black squad that will gather for training before they head for the UK. Quite how that will impact on teams’ fortunes heading into the semi-finals and final remains an unknown yet grim reality.

There will also be frustrations amongst the top provinces who boast the bulk of the All Blacks. These players place a heavy financial load on the unions’ books, and it’s a fair argument that if you are paying for a player you should at least be getting his services on the field. This is yet another problem for the NZRU to juggle, as will be any futher loss of fans coming to watch the games. Partially filled stadiums and fans voting with their feet because they perceive they are watching an inferior product will impact the NZRU severely in the current financial times we are facing.

24 Oct

ANZC Final Preview
by Tracey Nelson
24 Oct 2008

As predicted, the final has become a showdown of Wellington against Canterbury. Easily the two best sides in the competition this year, both have only dropped one game on their road to the final.

Canterbury lost their only game in the very first round, unexpectedly falling to minnow-team Manawatu. Wellington, by contrast, fell in the last round losing to Otago at Carisbrook have survived their first and only Shield Defence of the year the week before.

The final sees the best attacking side (Wellington) up against the best defensive side. However, to back their defence up Canterbury have been the second best attacking side behind Wellington. The same can’t be said for Wellington, who in recent weeks have looked brittle on defence at times.

With this in mind, Wellington coach Jamie Joseph has chosen to shift All Black 2nd 5, Ma’a Nonu, out to the wing and play a midfield combination of Tamati Ellison and Conrad Smith. Serge Lilo makes a welcome return at openside, having been out with injury for the last month. Injury concerns over prop Neemia Tialata and lock Jeremy Thrush, who has had a massive season for the capital side, have receded and both will start this Saturday night.

Canterbury have bigger injury woes, having lost speedy winger James Paterson to a serious knee injury early in their semi final game against Hawkes Bay, while half back Andy Ellis has been ruled out with a medial ligament strain. With All Black captain Richie McCaw at openside and Kieran Read captaining the side at No 8, Canterbury will be looking to get the edge at the breakdown with the assistance of their mobile locking pairing of Michael Paterson and Isaac Ross, along with seasoned campaigners Corey Flynn, Greg Somerville and Wyatt Crockett in the front row.

This game promises to be a real battle right across the field, with the Wellington speedsters of Hosea Gear and Corey Jane up against the solid Scott Hamilton and Paul Williams. Midfield has Ellison/Smith versus Tim Bateman and Casey Laulala. First five has the unlikely match-up of All Black halfback Piri Weepu against in-form rookie Colin Slade, yet another 1st 5 off the HSOB/Canterbury production line. Both forward packs are strong and mobile, so expect no mercy to be taken by either side.

Wellington have home advantage and a sting in their attack, while Canterbury have a pretty handy attack themselves and a proven defensive record this season. Finals rugby often comes down to which side has the best defence, but this may not be the case on Saturday night. Either way though, it promises to be a great game of rugby.

Predicition: depends what mood referee Bryce Lawrence is in. Too hard to call this one.

WELLINGTON: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Ma’a Nonu, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Piri Weepu (captain), 9 Alby Matthewson, 8 Rodney So’oialo, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Chris Masoe, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 John Schwalger, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Neemia Tialata. Reserves: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Tim Fairbrother, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Api Naikatini, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Tane Tu’ipulotu.

CANTERBURY: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Paul Williams, 13.Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Hayden Hopgood, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett, Reserves: 16 Steve Fualau, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Nasi Manu, 19 George Whitelock, 20 Steve Alfeld, 21 Hamish Gard, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (Bay of Plenty).

17 Oct

ANZC Semi-Finals Preview
by Tracey Nelson
17 Oct 2008

And then there were four. This weekend sees the semi-finals of the Air New Zealand Cup with Wellington taking on Southland at the Caketin, and Canterbury hosting Hawkes Bay in AMI Stadium in Christchurch. So what are the chances for the four contenders?

WELLINGTON v SOUTHLAND (1st v 5th), Friday 7.35pm

Wellington were made to work hard last week by an enterprising Taranaki side who really took the game to the competition favourites. Historically recognised for their good forward packs, the Naki unleashed a slick-running backline with 2nd 5 Jayden Haywood cutting some merry capers through the Lions’ defence at times. It took until the 70th minute of the game for Wellington to finally surge ahead on the board, and the final scoreline of 50-30 didn’t really tell the full story of the game.

Meanwhile, Southland had travelled north to take on Bay of Plenty and surprised many with the attacking game they brought with them. Despite Bay of Plenty scoring the first try, they were never really in the game after that and Southland gave them a stern lesson about getting numbers to the breakdown and have reliable set pieces. The final score of 45-11 in this match was a true reflection of what had happened on the field.

This semi-final match promises to be a true contrast of styles. Wellington have been in their own league as far as scoring points goes this season, yet defensively they have conceded nearly 200 points in 11 games. Contrast this with Southland, who have been very sound with a defensive record (163 points) second only to Canterbury and seem to be finally hitting their attacking straps at the business end of the season. On a dry ground at home, you’d back Wellington. But the weather is threatening rain and if Southland can play the percentages and maintain their strong defence, Wellington may well have a battle on their hands.

Key players: Wellington have the services of their All Blacks Nonu, Weepu, So’oialo, Schwalger and Tialata, with Conrad Smith on the bench. In a move obviously designed to shore-up their midfield defence, coach Jamie Joseph has shifted Nonu to the wing and brought Tane Tuipulotu back into the 2nd 5 slot. Southland have the in-form Jimmy Cowan, flying winger Pehi Te Whare who picked up a brace of tries last week, and a very solid front row.

Key areas: as always, the battle of the breakdown will be important and it will be interesting to see how the Wellington trio of Masoe, So’oialo and Waldrom match up in speed against Dion Bates, Tim Boys and David Hall. Southland will look to put the heat on at scrum time, and expect to see plenty of contesting from both sides at the lineouts. The edge in speed out wide probably goes to the Wellington back trio of Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu and Hosea Gear, but Southland fullback Robbie Robinson is an elusive runner and Te Whare is all power. At the end of the day this game will probably go to the team who has the better defence and can shut the opposition’s game down.

Likely result: hard to call if it rains, but you’d probably have to go with Wellington on their home track. Southland have a longer track record than Wellington for choking in the big games, but they have the form and game to upset the favourites if they can bring it.

Wellington: Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu, Tamati Ellison, Tane Tu’ipulotu, Hosea Gear, Piri Weepu (c), Alby Mathewson, Thomas Waldrom, Rodney So’oialo, Chris Masoe, Jeremy Thrush, Ross Filipo, John Schwalger, Dane Coles, Neemia Tialata. Reserves: Ged Robinson, Jacob Ellison, Tim Fairbrother, Api Naikatini, Serge Lilo, Daniel Kirkpatrick, Conrad Smith.
Southland: Robbie Robinson, Mark Wells, Kendrick Lynn, Matt Saunders, Pehi Te Whare, Blair Stewart, Jimmy Cowan, David Hall, Tim Boys, Dion Bates, Hoani Macdonald, Josh Bekhuis, Chris King, Jason Rutledge, Jamie Mackintosh (c). Reserves: Matt Holloway, Fai Mika, Daniel Ramsay, John Hardie, Scott Cowan,Tane Puke, Willie Rickards.

CANTERBURY v HAWKES BAY (2nd v 3rd), Saturday, 7.35pm

Canterbury dealt swiftly and sharply to Tasman last weekend winning 45-10, and have now won 10 games on the trot to keep their momentum growing. Easily the best defensive side in the competition conceding a miserly average of 10 points per game, they are also the second best attacking side after Wellington and therefore would appear to be odds on favourites to win this semi final.

Hawkes Bay played some great attacking rugby in the first half of their quarter final against Waikato last week, clocking up a 28-0 lead at halftime. However, they nearly let the game slip in the second half conceding nearly as many points as they had scored, and just scraped to victory on the back of the lone penalty Matt Berquist kicked to win 31-28. Despite conceding twice as many points this season as Canterbury has, Hawkes Bay can boast a pretty healthy attacking game and without doubt have the best functioning lineout in the competition having lost only two on their own throw this season.

This semi-final sees a meeting of two teams who play a very similar style of game. Last time they met (a mere 3 weeks ago), Canterbury won 31-7. Since then, Canterbury’s game has grown and whereas earlier in the season they squandered a few scoring opportunites, in recent times they have been nailing most of them and in Crusader-like style. Hawkes Bay have performed well all season, interestingly having only lost to the three other semi-finalists. They will be hoping for a dry ground, as their game relies on the pace of their backline and keeping the ball moving.

Key players: Canterbury have the luxury of starting All Black captain Richie McCaw this week, and also have 2008 All Blacks Greg Somerville and Andy Ellis in their lineup. Add to that seasoned campaigners Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett, Casey Laulala and Scott Hamilton, All Black-in-waiting Keiran Reid, plus the youthful talent of Tim Bateman and James Paterson, and this is a side that will be hard to beat at home. Hawkes Bay have their hard-running, accurate-throwing hooker Hikawera Elliot, the up and coming George Naoupu at No 8, and a good deal of talent in their backline with the likes of Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford, Jason Shoemark, Matt Berquist and seasoned campaigner Danny Lee.

Key areas: both teams are aggressive at the breakdown, so watch for a battle royale there. Can the Canterbury side upset Hawkes Bay at the lineout, or will Elliot’s excellent throwing continue? Hawkes Bay have a pretty good scrum, but Canterbury have given most sides a testing time in that area. Keep your fingers crossed for a dry track, because there should be some wonderful running rugby on display from both sides. Question is, will Hawkes Bay be able to combat Canterbury’s great defence?

Likely result: potentially this game could be the master teaching the student a lesson or two. While both sides play a very similar style, Canterbury simply have more experience and the better bench. Expect a Canterbury win, but for the Bay to keep themselves in the game until midway through the second half when the Cantabs start to bring on fresh legs.

Canterbury: Scott Hamilton, Paul Williams, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, James Paterson, Colin Slade, Andrew Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Richie McCaw, Hayden Hopgood, Isaac Ross, Michael Paterson, Greg Somerville, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Steve Fulau, Owen Franks, Nasi Manu, George Whitelock, Tyson Keats, Hamish Gard, Adam Whitelock.
Hawkes Bay: Israel Dagg, Jason Kupa, Jason Shoemark, Sam Giddens, Zac Guildford, Matthew Berquist, Danny Lee, George Naoupu, Karl Lowe, Michael Johnson, Bryn Evans, Johan Snyman, Anthony Perenise, Hikawera Elliot, Sona Taumalolo. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Josh Keys, Matt Egan, Pama Petia, Chris Eaton, Aayden Clarke, Mark Jackman. />

10 Oct

ANZC Quarter Finals Preview
by Tracey Nelson
10 Oct 2008

As we head into the quarter final games of the Air New Zealand Cup, just who has the form and talent to kick on to the semi finals?

CANTERBURY v TASMAN (2nd v 7th)
Friday Oct 10, Christchurch, 7.35pm

In what is looming as a Crusaders trial game, Tasman coach Todd Blackadder will no doubt be wearing two hats as he watches this game unfold tonight. The two sides met in week 5 of the competition, with the Red ‘n Blacks coming out with a 44-15 victory that belied the pressure Tasman had put them under for large parts of the game.

This game will see Brad Thorn’s first outing in the Mako jersey, and he will be having his first ANZC game of the season as will All Black captain Richie McCaw who will come off the bench for the Cantabs. Some key match ups in this game are those between Crusaders halfbacks Andy Ellis and Kahn Fotuali’i, Casey Laulala who is returning from injury and will be up against the in-form Kade Poki who has successfully shifted from the wing into his preferred centre position, Tasman’s 1st 5 Miah Nikora against Colin Slade (initially the third choice 1st 5 for Canterbury at the start of the season), the up and coming Mako’s loosehead Ben May against the veteran All Black tighthead Greg Somerville, and Brad Thorn taking on the young Canterbury locks Isaac Ross and Michael Paterson.

Canterbury are the best defensive side in the competition, only conceding an average of 10 points per game, and more often than not it’s good defence in the big games that will see a side through. To bolster that defence though is their attacking game which is second only to Wellington this year. Despite some terrific performances this season. Tasman will need to be on top of their game to topple the second ranked team in the ANZC. Likely score: 34-15 to Canterbury.

BAY OF PLENTY v SOUTHLAND (4th v 5th)
Saturday, Oct 11, Mt Maunganiu, 5.05pm

Both teams go into this qaurter-final on the back of a loss in their last round robin game, BOP having lost to Hawkes Bay 12-46 and Southland going down to Canterbury 6-25. These two are probably the closest matched teams, with BOP just edging Southland 24-22 in week 9. Southland are one of the better defensive sides in the competition, but the worst attacking side of the eight quarter finalists. BOP tend to leak tries like a seive on defence but make up for it by generally scoring a couple more than their opposition.

BOP have no All Blacks to call on, so their side remains settled going into the play-offs despite some injury concerns around key backs Mike Delaney and Nigel Hunt. They have an impressive loose trio in Colin Bourke, Tanerau Latimer and Solomon King, and the speed and skill of Zar Lawrence at fullback. Southland have All Black half back Jimmy Cowan, but he perhaps hasn’t been the impact they were hoping for and was comprehensively beaten around the fringes by his smaller but zippier opposite Ruki Tipuna last time the two sides met. Southland have a mighty front row boasting props Jamie Mackintosh and Chris King, and keep an eye on young fullback Robbie Robinson who has been injecting himself into the backline well this season.

Delaney is the second highest points scorer in the compeition with 88, and it may well come down to which side can land all their kicking chances in what promises to be a very close clash. Likely score: 22-21 to BOP.

WELLINGTON v TARANAKI (1st v 8th)
Saturday, Oct 11, Wellington, 7.35pm

On paper Wellington have to be the out and out favourites for this game, having scored a massive 353 points in round robin play and boasting top try scorer (11) Hosea Gear on the wing. However, since lifting the Ranfurly Shield off Auckland in week 8 Wellington have been making hard work of it, struggling to overcome a valiant Tasman in the first Shield defence and then being well beaten by out-of-contention Otago in the final round.

Despite Taranki losing their last game to Waikato in what was a marvellous display of try scoring but hardly a copybook approach to defence by either side, they scraped into the final eight thanks to Northland knocking Auckland out. The two sides haven’t played yet in 2008, last year Taranaki were well beaten 12-53 when they ventured down to the capital and they haven’t beaten Wellington since 2003.

Key players for Taranaki will be All Black hooker Andrew Hore, and first five Willie Ripia whose goal kicking has been outstanding this season and currently sits on 76 points for the season. Wellington have All Blacks Piri Weepu, Ma’a Nonu, and on the bench Rodney So’oialo. However, they have lost Neemia Tialata to injury and may struggle a bit at scrum time. Players to watch are up and coming Wellington lock Jeremy Thrush, and the outstanding opensider for Taranaki, Scott Waldrom.

It’s hard to see Taranaki having the mindset and the defence required to keep this Welllington side under wraps on their home turf, but both Tasman and Otago have shown that if you can take the game to them they can be vulnerable. However, expect Wellington to kick on to win this game and win it well. Likely score: 41-15.

HAWKES BAY v WAIKATO (3rd v 6th)
Sunday, Oct 12, Napier, 2.35pm

There are some games that just have that wee bit more to them than others, and this is one of them. The Magpies can boast that they have won the last three matches against Waikato, and on Sunday they will be looking to take that to four. The two teams met in week 8 in Napier, with the home side emerging victors 24-15. Add to this their pre-season victory and the 38-35 win they had over Waikato in the 2007 quarter final, the boasting rights are currently sitting with The Bay.

Waikato had a wretched start to the season, didn’t win a game until week 5 and only have four wins and a draw to their name, compared with Hawkes Bay’s 7 wins 3 losses record. Waikato also have the dubious honour of being the worst defensive side in the play-offs, but sit just one place behind Hawkes Bay in attacking prowess.

With the return of their ace goal kicking 1st 5 Matt Berquist from injury, Hawkes Bay are going into the play-offs with a very settled looking side. Hooker Hikawera Elliot may well be pushing for an All Black jersey for the end of year tour, while in the backline there is speed and guile in the likes of Zac Guildford and Jason Shoemark. Waikato have their All Blacks back in the form of Mils Muliaina (his first ANZC appearance since 2006), Richard Kahui playing at centre, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Sione Lauaki. First five Callum Bruce has racked up 75 points for the season, and Waikato will be relying on his accuracy with the boot.

This is another hard game to call, but on the strength of playing form going into this game, the home advantage and the 2.30pm kick off, my call is leaning towards Hawkes Bay. Likely score: 25-22.

30 Aug

O'Neill At It Again
by WAJ
30 Aug 2007

Only 8 sleeps to go!

Yep the latest out of the mouth of big John is to push for a challenge
competition between the top sides from the ARC and the ANZC.

So what are
the benefits, or not as the case may be, for each country – NZ: a bit of
money, more games in an already long season, help to improve the depth
of Australian rugby.

Australia: a bit more money (and they are chewing
through their WC profits impressively), more games for their younger
undeveloped players against good opposition.

So do we want to continue
helping them improve their game, or have we done enough over the last 20
years?

I watched a few of the NH WC warm up games over the last couple of weeks.
I don’t know how much you can take out of it as all teams are giving
players game time, but France look good – everyone else pretty much
crap.

Engerland stop at #9, and you can’t win with 9 men, Ireland
struggled like hell against Italy and lost to Scotland, are only 80%
without O’Driscoll and have a crap scrum, Wales are straight out awful,
Scotland have monster forwards, and thus will be a good workout for the
AB’s, but nothing else. Italy were the best of this lot, excluding
France, great scrum and bloody tough up front, again good for us, no
backs of course – they should have beaten Ireland.

They will all lift
when it starts for real, but I just cannot see the top 4 being anything
other than France, Aust, SA and us.

And what is with these dickheads who commit a foul act these days. First
the Hawkes Bay prop and now the Waikato lock. In these days of maximum
media coverage and stiff penalties for foul play why would you even go
there? Both of these players’ seasons are effectively over. Dumb, dumb
and dumber still!

The player who has most caught my eye so far this season is Isaac Ross.
Jock’s boy has All Black written all over him. Big, strong and athletic,
wins lineouts against the throw, scores tries on the wing from cross
kicks etc etc.

And so to the games:

Hawkes Bay v Auckland – HB have been the Cinderella story of the season
to date no question, but tonight the bubble will burst big time.
Unfortunately for HB they will meet an Auckland side on the rebound from
a disappointing performance against Taranaki and will come to play.
Auckland are superior in all aspects and the final score will reflect
that.
Auckland 13+

Counties Manukau v Wellington – The only hope for CM is whether Wellington’s
poor away form continues. But then CM are no Hawkes Bay and thus expect
a comfortable Wgtn victory. Thought Nonu looked the best he has been for
a while until injured last week, and you can tell this because he throws
a decent pass or two. If he plays his match up with Ta’auso will be the highlight of the game.
Wellington 13+

Otago v Southland – Aah yes the derby to end all derbies – who can roll
their R’s and enjoy a kilt on a cold windy day more. Both have been
disappointing so far and have struggled in their wins and been shocking
in defeat. I fancy Southland here in a close one. They like nothing more
than stuffing their northern neighbours and this passion will be enough
to get them up in a game of two very even teams. I feel sorry though for
the new Highlanders coach though having to pick a team from this lot.
Southland 1 – 12

Tasman v Bay of Plenty – So Caleb Ralph plays for his umpteenth team
against the team where it all started. And he is in the right team this
week as well. BoP can’t buy a win, and against an honest side who know
how to win when the opportunity beckons, will remain rooted to the
bottom of the table.
Tasman 1 – 12

Northland v Taranaki – 2 mid table teams who are pretty evenly matched.
But Northland have been pretty solid at home so far this season. Their
defence has held up well and they kick the goals to keep winning the
clutch games. A win will go a long way to cementing a top 8 position and
against a Taranaki team who are gutsy but seem to forget to win they
will be too strong.
Northland 13+

Waikato v Canterbury – Can’t wait to see this – just a pity it won’t be
until next Thursday for me :-( Has all the makings of a classic. Two evenly
matched forward packs, with Canterbury perhaps having a slight edge at
the set pieces, and Waikato in the loose. Canterbury look to have the
edge in the backs(with 4 ex-AB’s of recent vintage) however and the Duck
needs to take those around him under his wing if Waikato are to win
this. Can the inexperienced midfield hold up. Expect Tuali’I to run at
them a lot, and the Waikato loosies will need to work overtime to help
out here. The battle of the 1 5/8′s is a cracker and whoever plays
better could determine this game. I think Canterbury have too many
options.
Canterbury 1 – 12

North Harbour v Manawatu – Attendance records and TV ratings could be
under threat here – how low can they go? Is anyone evenly remotely
interested?
North Harbour 1 – 12

Regards Waj