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Even as a die-hard Canterbury fan, I can certainly sympathise with all you other footy fans out there. So far in the ITM Cup (three rounds in at the time of writing), no one has even come within a whisker of Canterbury as they march towards their seventh-straight title.
But one thing that rugby fans can be relieved about is that Counties Manukau lost the beloved Ranfurly Shield last weekend to Hawke’s Bay (who will hopefully hold it for longer than six days this time). This means that Canterbury may go without a challenge this year, and that can only be seen as a very good thing for rugby.
Don’t get me wrong: I would love to see the Log o’ Wood back in the trophy cabinet at AMI Stadium in Christchurch (God knows where we’d fit it). But for the state of provincial rugby in this country, I think it’s best if the Shield stays out of the hands of Canterbury.
As I’ve already alluded to, no one has come close to even putting a little bit of pressure on Canterbury so far. Give them the Ranfurly Shield and you can pretty much write every other team off for the rest of the year. The Log o’ Wood would remain in the Garden City for the next ten years, hands down, and everyone would forget the Shield even existed until Marty Banks’ lads at Tasman tipped us up to take the Shield north. You could make a movie out of this column.
However, with all that being said, the state of rugby in this country is looking bloody good. Forget this piss-poor crowds that are showing up (NZRU: move the games to smaller stadiums, you tools): the ITM Cup is producing some superb talent and is paving the way for young players, and even some older ones, to earn themselves a Super Rugby contract.
No longer do the likes of Canterbury, Wellington and Otago need to poach players with the incentive of making that city’s Super franchise. It has meant a better competition and, with the exception of Canterbury, a more even one.
The gap between the teams in the Premiership and Championship seems to be getting smaller. Northland have already tipped Wellington over, and Tasman should’ve fancied their chances against an average-looking Auckland outfit last weekend (these draws are really butchering my virtual rugby points).
So now, instead of complaining about crowd sizes, complaining about how dominant Canterbury are – did I mention we’re gunning for our seventh-straight title? – and forgetting the fact that Hawke’s Bay will lose the Shield to Otago in a couple of weeks (you heard that here first), let’s just enjoy the footy. Enjoy the quality players we have on show, enjoy the smaller franchises tipping up the bigger ones, and EVERYBODY enjoy watching my man Willie Heinz hoist that trophy at the end of the year.
I may have just jinxed them. Enjoy your ITM Cup. Go the red’n’blacks!
Top 5 ITM Cup Heroes
5. Jimmy Cowan – I know he’s only just come back, but what a lord, JC! World Cup winner, made his coin overseas,and now he’s back to help out the great Tasman side. I love that about this competition. When’s Carl Hayman coming back to Otago?
4. Jason Woodward – Everyone thinks he’s a douche. I used to as well, and then I had the pleasure of interviewing him a couple of weeks ago. What a hero. Genuinely nice guy, who loves being able to pull on that Wellington Lions jersey. Too bad they won’t win a game this year, but still. Hero.
3. Willie Heinz – I know the man rips up at Super Rugby level too (black jersey, anyone?), but this guy is a lord when it comes to ITM Cup. Given the captaincy duties for Canterbury this year, this man epitomises leading by example. Hero.
2. Patrick Osborne – The beast who tears apart opposition backlines, the man’s ability to perform at ITM Cup level is unquestionable. I mean, I know he’s had some handy cameos in Super Rugby as well, but give the man an ITM Cup backline and he will go straight through them.
1. Marty Banks – The man, the myth, the legend that is Tasman’s Marty Banks. Who doesn’t love this guy? Turned heads in his first season of ITM Cup last year, earned himself a Super Rugby contract with the Hurricanes, and in 2014 averages over 20 points a game. Absolute hero.