By Matt Hall-Smith
Entering its second season as a two-tier format, the reasons for two divisions in the 14 team ITM Cup are still unclear.
With no glaring positives coming from its roll out last year, there were a few cons eventually uncovered. Manawatu ultimately finished top of Division 2 and on top across both divisions, with seven wins and three losses. The format states that teams play everyone in their division once, and also have four crossover matches - somewhat contradicting the apparent reasons of having two tiers!
The green machine from Manawatu will again remain and be referred to as a Division 2 team for 2012. That’s frustrating for a union that won three of its four cross over matches with wins over Taranaki, Wellington, and a thrashing of eventual premier finalists Waikato.
Spare a thought for the Tasman Makos. They were probably looking to go quietly about their business as a Division 2 team this year, and build from their last placing in 2011. Yet with the split format, the Makos have the short end of the straw. The Tasman men will face last year’s champions Canterbury first up, followed by playing the current Ranfurly Shield holders, Taranaki. So not exactly smooth sailing straight up in division two for a small union like Tasman.
It appears the current format tarnishes some of the smaller unions, and confuses the meaning of some games. The NZRU should return to a simple model last seen in 2008. It would start with a 10-week round robin, in which every team misses out on playing three teams. The 2008 model had quarter-finals, giving chances for lower ranked teams to have a play off chance even with the competition drawing to a close.
As a majority of the All Blacks are once again unavailable for the 2012 ITM Cup, the style of format doesn’t exactly give off crowd pulling vibes. It’s also probably not the finest marketing ploy by referring to some teams as Division 2 sides given that’s not really the case. It seems the NZRU have tried to spice up the ITM Cup by mixing in another edge. Given it looks flashy on paper, it actually doesn’t have any benefits at all and it needs to consider a further change once more.