Just two rounds remain in the ITM Cup and it’s all on the line in the penultimate weekend as spots still remain in both divisional playoff equations, and the relegation battle looms as a three-horse race.
And so, with so much to look forward to, we look back into week eight, dipping our toes in waters awash with flying elbows, try fiestas, and top of the table upsets to prep you for round nine’s big weekend with our ITM Cup Power Rankings.
1. Otago: like, the whole damn team
They have already claimed the scalps of Taranaki and Wellington but as if pulling off the two greatest comeback victories of the season was not enough, the boys from Dunners put on an absolutely ruthless display on their home deck in week eight to hand Southland their heaviest defeat of the season, and to move up three places on their last Power Rankings position.
The Southern Classic is supposed to be a dour affair in which teams trade penalties and pick and drives before everything ends in a fight and a joint court session. Instead their match against Southland was a points party for which the Stags’ invite never arrived. We say Otago aren’t done with yet. Watch for an upset at the business end of the Championship.
2. Pauliasi Manu, Counties-Manukau
Prop forwards have come a long way since the archetypal neanderthal who had to be turned around at half time, and Pauliasi Manu is the second front rower to make an appearance in this week’s power rankings. No, not for his scrummaging, nor his clean out work, but for the fact he invariably pops up in the midfield like the world’s biggest meerkat and throws great passes off his left and right side. Pauliasi is a baller. And we like that.
3. Angus Ta’avao, Taranaki
Quite possibly the best game Angus Ta’avao has ever played at provincial level, and what a game he had. Taranaki took it straight down channel one all game long against the Cantabrians and big Gus was the go to guy for the Amber and Blacks all day long. There are three things to admire about Ta’avao: 1. He wears glasses. 2. He has poured his heart and soul into his adopted province. 3. See 1.
4. Colin Cooper, Taranaki Coach
Koro Cooper returns to the power rankings this week after masterminding a first Taranaki win in Christchurch since 1962. Needless to say, his facial expression still didn’t change.
5. Ihaia West, Bird gangster
The fact that he is built like a hobbit doesn’t seem to faze Ihaia West, and it showed against Auckland in the shield game and again against Wellington three days later too. West is the great spreadsheet selection nightmare for a coach – you just don’t know what box to put him in. Hawkes Bay don’t put him in a box, they put him in a Andrew Horrell-Richard Beckman sandwich on scrum defence, so the attacking line doesn’t know where he’s going to be. That’s how you hide a very small red-headed man. Clever Magpies.
6. Jamie Mackintosh, Southland Stag
Jamie Mackintosh may look like a very large Jim Croce but there was nothing soft and soothing about the big Stag’s big elbow in the Southern Classic. You just don’t see flying elbows in open play these days, so good on Whoppa for bringing back the old school at the Toast Rack. Needless to say, the Southland captain was shown a red card, but not before he put up a very good prop forward defence. “I didn’t even touch him” would have been a very good line, but for the fact Hisa Sasagi’s face was leaking copious amounts of blood as a result of the contact.
Never before in the history of provincial rugby has one team shown such generosity. The Taniwha have been dishing out bonus points all season. They are the ITM Cup’s points pinata. Northlanders are renowned for their hospitality, but that used to mean the feed after the match, rather than holding the door open all game long. Here at the The Spinoff Sports we salute the Cambridge Blue for all they have done for every team that has played them this season.
8. Ball delivery kids
Call us overly sentimental but to hell with the cool shield. Ball delivery kids are the future. Smiling, gangly, uncoordinated, freezing cold children running out the match ball in front of their home crowd with varying degrees of showmanship and acute shyness are a hit every time. Ball delivery kids should feature in everything. Parliament should open every day with a ball delivery kid. Ball delivery kids are only bettered by one thing: beer delivery kids.
9. Joe Wheeler’s arms, Tasman Makos
Joe Wheeler has the most versatile arms in the business. When he is not using them to make tackles, throw mid field pop passes and hold microphones, he has become expert in flapping them at referees. Joe Wheeler’s arms are a choreography of malcontent. These arms have been flapped at every referee this season. It would not come as a surprise to find feathers growing under his arm pits. All hail the arms of Wheeler.
10. Bay of Plenty
The Steamers are probably the least talked about team in the competition, so let’s bloody well discuss them. Why do we like the Steamers? A: No one actually knows who any of them are. B: They are coached by one of the hard men of the Bay of Plenty teams of yore, Clayton McMillan. C: They are playing like Bay of Plenty teams of yore, namely, kicking, punching, pinching and gouging their way through matches before throwing the ball to a super star (in this case, Chase Tiatia). D: They don’t suck.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.