The semi final line up is as follows;
Saturday 19th October 4:35am
Tasman (1) v (4) Southland
Sunday 20th October 2:35am
Otago (2) v (3) Hawke's Bay
Friday 18th October 7:35 am
Wellington (1) v (4) Counties Manakau
Wellington cruise into the final with the back row of Shields, Savea and Vito particularly impressing. It's unlikely that they will be stopped.
Saturday 19th October 2:05am
Canterbury (2) v (3) Auckland
Story So Far
There have been 4 standout teams in the ITM Cup this season. Wellington have been by a distance the best team in the competition, with Canterbury and Auckland close by on their tails in the Premiership.
Tasman have also been very impressive after cantering to top seeds in the Championship.
|Ardie Savea scores v Auckland. Source: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images AsiaPac|
Wellington have swept all before them with Ardie Savea standing out in an impressive back row, where the performances of Victor Vito will also have BNZ selectors interested. Such was Wellington's dominance that they started with 4 try bonus point wins in the first 4 games, including beating Counties 19-55 in the first week. They ended up winning their next 4 games, which also included victories against Canterbury and a bonus point win over Auckland, the other two semi finalists. The only blot on their mark was a loss to Hawke's Bay in the last week having already guaranteed top spot.
Canterbury and Auckland also started well, not losing until the 6th and 5th weeks respectively, with Canterbury's only loss to Wellington by 19 points to 25. Auckland were a little more sloppy, with losses to Waikato and Otago also on their copybook.
Waikato and Taranaki had average seasons, neither one threatening either relegation or the playoffs, while Bay of Plenty struggled.
Tasman were very impressive in their march to the Championship top spot, with only losses to Canterbury and a bad loss to North Harbour their only blots, although not playing Auckland or Wellington certainly helped.
Otago were next best, and while they had mixed season, their 4 losses all came against teams who ended up in the semi finals. They finished the season strongly with two bonus point wins, but will be looking to make up for their one point loss to Hawke's Bay in the semi finals.
Finishing one point behind them was Hawke's Bay, and in what looks like a very tight semi final, both teams had similar seasons with 4 losses each. A loss to Bay of Plenty early on was a set back, but victories over Otago, Southland and Wellington set up Hawke's Bay up for a push for promotion.
Southland won only 3 of their 9 games, and scraped into the semi finals at the expense of Manwatu, but shouldn't be expecting much from their semi final sojourn.
Northland, despite the magic of Rene Ranger and Rupeni Caucaunibuca, couldn't muster up a semi final challenge, while one win and a draw was all North Harbour could manage.
Premiership semi finalists Counties Manakau had a great season after being promoted last year. Not only did they manage to finish 4th, they also finished the season with the Ranfurly Shield after it changed hands several times.
|Counties Manakau claim the Ranfurly Shield. Getty Images|
Waikato started the season as holders, and managed to successfully fend off North Harbour before losing the following week to Otago. It was the first time in 56 years for Otago to hold the Ranfurly Shield, which made it all the more devastating they lost it the following week in that one point loss to Hawke's Bay. Hawke's Bay couldn't do much better, losing the following defense to Counties Manakau, where the shield stayed after 3 successful defenses to Taranaki, Waikato and Southland.
Wellington - Ardie Savea, Shaun Treeby
As mentioned, Savea looked a class apart in this competition, showing a complete range of skills, from impressive steals, strong running and great finishing collecting up with 4 tries. Treeby has also scored 4 tries, and was magnificent against Counties in the semi final displaying strong defensive highlighted by the great rip which set up his try. Other strong Wellington performers include Victor Vito, who must have earned his way back into BNZ selector's thoughts for the end of year tour.
Canterbury - Jordan Taufua, Luke Whitelock, Mildford Keresoma
While Canterbury are a highly drilled unit with each player performing highly, it was hard to pick one player as a standout. No team scored more tries than Canterbury, highlighted by the fact that Mildford Keresoma leads the try scoring charts with 8 after 9 games. At 21, he looks to have a big future in the game. Patrick Osborne and Adam Whitelock both finished with 5 tries, Rob Thompson with 4, while Ryan Crotty and Luke Whitelock bagged 3 each. With 4 different outhalves tried in Canterbury just highlights the sense of a team stepping up and no one individual standing out. Jordan Taufua is one to watch out for next season in Super Rugby though, with much expected of the 21 year old, he performed well when given the chance this competition.
Auckland - Simon Hickey, Lolagi Visinia
|Simon Hickey impressed for Auckland Source: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images AsiaPac|
Still only 19, Hickey will have another year at Under 20s next year. A frightening thought.
Visinia is himself only 20, which means his tally of 6 tries is very impressive. Another young backthree who will look to get some gametime for the Blues next season.
Counties Manukau - Sherwin Stowers
He may be without a team for next season's Super Rugby and will turn instead to 7s, but Sherwin Stowers was one of the names that New Zealand commentators praised highly for his performances. A player with huge X factor, the crowd audibly got excited whenever he got the ball, and more often than not he made things happen. It seems incredible that he couldn't find a team for Super Rugby next year, at 27, he should only be approaching his peak. A far cry from 2011, when he turned down both the Chiefs and the Highlanders to sign for the Blues.
Tasman - James Lowe
Like Stowers, James Lowe is someone who makes things happen, and was the standout player in the Tasman side. A number of this side has been subsequently signed for Super Rugby, including Lowe, who will be looking to replace Lelia Masaga for the Chiefs. Scorer of 6 tries himself, Lowe also has the ability to break the line and create things for others.
Otago -Hayden Parker, Fa'asiu Fuatai
Hayden Parker finished the regular season as top points scorer with 161, and generally looked a tidy player. With Slade leaving the Highlanders, the 22 year old will be looking to challenge Lima Sopoaga for the starting spot. Parker displayed maturity beyond his years in this years competition, and players similar to Beauden Barrett.
Southland - Cardiff Vaega
Admitedly, I don't think I caught one Southland game, but I had to include Vaega for this article, from stuff.co.nzstuff.co.nz:
Southland midfielder Cardiff Vaega has claimed the final spot in the Hurricanes squad for 2014.
Vaega signed with the franchise this week, after Wellington Lions lock Mark Reddish also recommitted to the team for 2014.
The two signings round off the Hurricanes' roster for next season, with its wider training group members still to be added.
Vaega, 22, has been a standout for Southland during the provincial season particularly through his midfield pairing with Willis Halaholo.
Hurricanes' coaches Mark Hammett and Alama Ieremia felt Vaega had been at the forefront of that pairing, and would be a good fit for the Hurricanes in 2014.
Assistant and backs coach, Ieremia, said Vaega was extremely physical, made accurate defensive decisions, and had been one of the standout midfielders during the 2013 ITM Cup.
"Cardiff offers size and a physical presence we were looking for in our midfield. He's been a consistent performer for the Southland team and we're excited to help him develop his game through the Hurricanes environment.
"As a team man, he will fit well into our culture and we welcome him to the next challenge of his career."
Vaega said he couldn't be more excited to pick up the last spot in the Hurricanes squad, and put his selection down to the confidence he had developed in Southland.
"I've got a bit more confidence this year which has enabled me to express myself better on the field and show people what I have to offer.
"I grew up watching and admiring a number of players in the Hurricanes and can't wait to have a chance to pull the jersey on myself. I'm looking forward to representing the team as best I can on and off the field."
Players signed for Super Rugby teams from ITM Cup.
Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland) Second Row
|James Lowe starred for Tasman and was rewarded with a move to the Chiefs. Source: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images AsiaPac|
Liam Squire (Tasman) No. 8
James Lowe (Tasman) Wing
Mitchell Drummon (Canterbury) Scrumhalf
Tom Franklin (Otago) Second Row
Gareth Evans (Otago) Flanker
Shane Christie (Tasman) Flanker
Kurt Baker (Taranaki) Full Back
Mark Abbot (Hawke's Bay) Second Row
Marty Banks (Tasman) Fly Half
Cardiff Vaega (Southland) Centre
Telusa Veainu (Canterbury) Wing
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