Air New Zealand Cup - Contenders & Pretenders
July 20, 2006

Air New Zealand Cup premiership teams at a glance:


NPC Champions: 1982; 84-85; 87-90; 93-96; 99; 2002-03; 05.

2005: Champions.

Coach: Pat Lam

Pool A

Prospects: Even without the services of a bevvy of All Blacks, Lam's side features 10 who have worn the coveted black jersey -- enough talent to suggest they will figure come sudden death time. V eteran loose forward Andrew Blowers brings a wealth of experience back from the UK while hooker Derren Witcombe's comeback from a serious neck injury will be watched with interest.


NPC Champions: 1976

2005: 8th

Coach: Andre Bell

Pool A

Prospects: Fell away last season after a fairytale run to the semis in 2004. The Bay will struggle to make the top three in arguably the toughest pool with Auckland, North Harbour, Wellington and Taranaki all tussling to avoid the repechage. Bay boast a pack with plenty of Super 14 experience with the Chiefs, while flanker Tanerau Latimer made a great impact in the latter stages of the champion Crusaders' title run.


NPC Champions: 1977; 83; 97; 2001; 04.

2005: Semifinalists

Coach: Rob Penney

Pool B

Prospects: Weakened by the absence of Daniel Carter, Aaron Mauger, Chris Jack and Richie McCaw among others, but still boast the depth to be title contenders. Understudies Johnny Leo'o and Cameron McIntyre -- who has spurned a move to France -- have stepped up in the past when the big names have been missing, while the reliable boot of UK-bound fullback Ben Blair was pivotal in prolonging the Shield reign last season. A cluster of rookies defended the Log against South Canterbury and Wairarapa Bush and beat a strong Wellington trial side on Sunday.


NPC Champions: 1979.

2005: Semifinalists (division 2)

Coach: Kevin Putt

Pool B

Prospects: Expectations have wisely not been set too high as Counties-Manukau return to the top flight. Have a canny coach in Kevin Putt and Steelers icon Errol Brain to assist. Former pivot Blair Feeney is back from England for the rebirth and will find an exciting backline to unleash, including Chiefs centre Niva Ta'auso and New Zealand Colts wing Lelia Masaga, scorer of 15 tries last season. Kristian Ormsby's return from Wellington is crucial, given the relative inexperience of the pack. "He's going to be critical for us because he's a full-time professional. The others will need to come up to his level," says Brain.


NPC, second division winners: 1979; 88-90; 2001-03; 05.

2005: Champions (Div 2)

Coach: Brendon Ratcliffe

Pool B

Prospects: Kicking off with Canterbury in the tournament opener at McLean Park should be an early reality check for a squad lacking star quality. Former All Blacks halfback Danny Lee and Nathan Mauger -- back from a stint in Europe -- will be under pressure to keep a raw squad together.


NPC champions: 1980.

2005: 6th (Division 2)

Coach: Dave Rennie

Pool A

Prospects: Not good -- at least there is no relegation. Former provincial powerhouse go in ranked 14th and would surprise if they exceeded expectations. Already on their second coach after Charlie McAlister split a month ago. Rennie has had little time to finalise a squad which features a mix of locals and foreign journeymen. Joggie Viljoen, a Springbok in 1996, is one of four South Africans on the books while Argentine fullback Francisco Bosch arrived last week to try out. Play Auckland in the first round and it barely looks to get any easier after that.


NPC: second division winners: 1987.

2005: Semifinalists

Coach: Allan Pollock

Pool A

Prospects: Harbour do not have a big All Blacks component , though prop Tony Woodcock and Luke McAlister leave fairly big voids to fill in the interim. Troy Flavell has a shoulder injury while Rua Tipoki will miss the opening rounds as he completes his Super 14 suspension. Harbour is well served is out wide where Rudi Wulf, Zar Lawrence and Viliame Waqaseduadua contest the wing berths. All Black great Jonah Lomu is also waiting in the wings after making his return to club rugby last weekend. What size role will the big fella play?


NPC: Second division winners: 1977, 1997.

2005: 10th

Coach: Marc Anscombe

Pool B

Prospects: The whipping boys in 2005, Northland should at least avoid the wooden spoon due to the promotion of three former division two outfits, and newly formed Tasman. It still will be tough going for the Taniwha, although the return home of former Auckland captain and flanker Justin Collins will boost the pack. The transfer system sees Blues halfback David Gibson head north on loan.


NPC Champions: 1991; 98.

2005: Runner-up

Coach: Steve Martin

Pool B

Prospects: Equipped to qualify for the quarterfinals with a solid forward pack backed by the skills of talented pivot Nick Evans. Halfback Chris Smylie has the opportunity to push on from an impressive Super 14 campaign with the Highlanders. The Ranfurly Shield is sure to weigh heavily on Otago minds -- given it is 49 years since the Log resided at Carisbrook. Will the drought finally end on September 2, presuming Canterbury sees off Southland's challenge a fortnight earlier?


NPC: second division winners, 1989; 94; 96.

2005: 6th

Coach: David Henderson/Simon Culhane

Pool B

Prospects: Buy Southland made is the policy in the deep south. Only two of the squad were not involved in the local club competition -- Australian prop Ben Coutts and back Jason Kawau, who has transferred from Otago. The Stags will be combative, particularly at home.


NPC: second division winners, 1976; 82-85; 92; 95.

2005: 9th

Coach: Kieran Crowley

Pool A

Prospects: Wins over Tasman and Manawatu should be attainable but otherwise it looks like a tough ask for The Naki. Lock Paul Tito and former Hurricanes prop Tony Penn are the basis of the forward pack, along with Scott Waldrom. In the backs, the line-up is dominated by newcomers to first class rugby -- wings John Mow and Asalemo Malo, first five-eighth Kurt Morath and halfback Brett Goodin.


New province, amalgamation of Marlborough and Nelson Bays.

2005: Nelson Bays, runners-up (Div 2); Marlborough 5th (Div 2).

Coach: Dennis Brown

Pool A

Prospects: New Zealand's newest franchise since the ill-conceived Central Vikings will make up the numbers in a tough pool. Crusaders Rico Gear and Chris Jack are trump cards but the damage may already be irreparable by the time they return from All Blacks duty. Have brought in four English imports and Sydney wing Peter Playford. Former All Blacks prop Greg Feek will be expected to shore up the scrum. Feek's former Crusaders mate Todd Blackadder, Tasman's director of rugby, an iconic leader, will be crucial off the field.


NPC Champions: 1992.

2005: 7th

Coach: Warren Gatland

Pool B

Prospects: Excellent. With players dropping out of All Black calculations Waikato look strong title contenders from their pool, after a disappointing 7th last year. The backline is stacked with pace in the form of Sosene Anesi, Roy Kinikinilau and Sitiveni Sivivatu (when available). David Hill and Stephen Donald are useful five-eighths while Marty Holah, Steven Bates and Liam Messam form an imposing loose trio. Jono Gibbes and Tom Willis are other former All Blacks to add steel in the tight.


NPC Champions: 1978; 81; 86; 2000.

2005: 5th

Coach: John Plumtree

Pool A

Prospects: Tana Umaga was denied a winning farewell in the Super 14 but will he head off to France after hoisting the Air New Zealand Cup? Wellington are genuine contenders, despite initially missing up to six All Blacks. Ma'a Nonu, Piri Weepu, Rodney So'oialo, Chris Masoe, Jerry Collins and Neemia Tialata will be available at some stage. With the likes of Lome Fa'atau, Shannon Paku, Hosea Gear and Jimmy Gopperth there to take up the slack, and halfback Jason Spice back from Wales, Wellington should still be in touch when the big guns return. Centre Conrad Smith's return from a broken leg will be keenly followed.


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