The Tight Five: What we’ve learned about the ITM Cup

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James Mortimer     02 Sep 2014     Getty Images

And we are only a third of the way into the season...

All hail the Ranfurly Shield

Last season Otago defeated Waikato to take the Shield, a week later lost it to Hawke’s Bay who in turn lost it to Counties-Manukau, who locked up the famous trophy for the 2013 summer.

After seven defences, they lost it in an epic match against a Magpies team that looks destined not only to defend the Shield (hopefully for the local fans), but threaten the Championship title.

However it is the Log o’ Wood that reigns above all during the season before any cups are handed out.

In two weeks’ time Otago will challenge for the Shield, during round five, and if the defence is successful the Magpies will put it up against the following week against Bay of Plenty.

If, and only if, those two games are navigated, then Wellington and Southland will be the remaining challengers for 2014.

Can anyone beat Canterbury?

So far it seems to be business as usual.

The red and black machine, defending champions and six-time consecutive winners, have lost plenty of players, George Whitelock and Andy Ellis among them, but as always, the Canterbury production line has competition ready prodigies ready to go.

It is the numbers that are frightening so far.

The ITM Cup Premiership title holders have scored 20 tries and conceded two in three matches, and ready with a 115 plus point’s difference. They are also first in offloads and second overall with metres, breaks, metres, defenders beaten and tackle success.

Usual suspects for the Championship

Take out the promoted Tasman, and the top four of the 2014 ITM Cup Championship so far has the same teams that finished the 2013 campaign.

Oddly, Otago, Hawke’s Bay, Southland and Manawatu are at the end of the third round in the same order that they finished last season.

The closeness of the top four is demonstrated by their identical 2-1 record – and yet none of these teams play each other next until September 14 at the end of round five when Hawke’s Bay host Otago.

Which will also be for the Ranfurly Shield…

What of the faltering big boys?

Wellington, Auckland and Counties featured in semi-final rugby during the ITM Cup Premiership knockout stages in 2013, but all three teams are sitting outside the top four and have just two collective wins from nine matches.

The Lions, last year’s minor premiers, are on the bottom of the table, courtesy of back-to-back losses against Championship outfits.

Counties, who lost the Shield against the Magpies, now have two consecutive matches on the road.

Auckland, who struggled against newly promoted Tasman over the weekend, might have run riot against Manawatu, but that old bugbear of consistency has already reared its ugly head.

So what is next for the blue and whites and Wellington? A blockbuster at Eden Park this Saturday.

Trainspotting (with thanks to Opta)

Breaks – 39 (Canterbury and Taranaki)
Carries – 440 (Wellington)
Metres – 2028 (Taranaki)
Defenders beaten – 108 (Taranaki)
Tackle success – 86.9 (Northland)
Lineout – 95.3 (Wellington)
Offloads – 60 (Canterbury)
Scrums – 100% (Tasman, Wellington, Canterbury)
Rucks – 96% (Counties, Wellington)