As the two points tables show, there will be some intense jockeying for position. The Premiership semifinals, in particular, are still too close to call, while Hawke’s Bay will be desperate to ensure the Ranfurly Shield stays locked up over summer when it defends the Log o’ Wood against Wellington on Sunday. Northland and Taranaki are not quite yet confirmed in that Championship top four.
The rugby on show thus far has been the usual compelling mix of freewheeling but highly competitive code. The youngsters are thriving alongside the wiser, older heads.
It should make for a fascinating late spring climax to this provincial season.
Auckland: 30 points
Crossover: v Northland (h)
Premiership: v Canterbury (a)
The 2018 Premership champion is in the box seat for at least a home semifinal and, if it can topple the Taniwha at Eden Park, the possible top qualifier rung heading into the playoffs.
The forward pack is flexing its muscle, and in Salesi Rayasi, it has the Mitre 10 Cup’s leading tryscorer (9) and cutting edge.
For all that, its final position will be determined in the last game of the regular season, away to old rival, but a struggling old rival, Canterbury.
Tasman: 29 points
Premiership: Canterbury (h)
Crossover: Otago (a)
The defending Premiership champion Mako started the Mitre 10 Cup on fire, but came unstuck in surprising fashion against North Harbour and Auckland.
However, the Mako won an important victory in the capital last weekend and 4-5 points against a struggling Canterbury will go a long way to tying up a home semifinal. They could yet finish top or even drop out of the four, but that latter scenario seems highly improbable on form.
Waikato: 27 points
Premiership: Bay of Plenty (h)
Crossover: Northland (a)
The Mooloos looked hot to trot right up until they foundered at Eden Park last weekend.
But Andrew Strawbridge’s men still harbour hopes of a home semifinal, provided they kickstart their winning form and hope that Auckland or Tasman falter.
It all starts on Sunday when they host their local rivals in a Chiefs Country Cup defence, no easy task against the in-form Steamers.
Wellington: 24 points
Crossover: Hawke’s Bay (RS, a)
Crossover: Manawatu (h)
If the Lions take the Shield on Sunday, it will give them the vital competition momentum they have lacked throughout an up and down season.
They were flat as pancakes in the home loss to Tasman last weekend, but they could yet poach a home semifinal.
Two crossover matches indicate a good draw, but a defeat on Napier will see them nervously looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack to even make the top four.
Bay of Plenty: 21 points
Premiership: Waikato (a)
Premiership: North Harbour (h)
The Steamers have hit form at just the right time of year, taking out Manawatu, Canterbury (in style) and Hawke’s Bay.
They are ‘The Bay’ for the next year, but they really want to crack the semifinals in their first season back up in the top echelon and two, winnable, Premiership clashes await.
Taking the Chiefs Country Cup against Waikato will guarantee nothing, but will probably mean they hold their fate in their own hands going into the final round. Two losses, though, and the cruel spectre of relegation will hove into view again.
North Harbour: 20 points
Crossover: Counties Manukau (h)
Premiership: Bay of Plenty (a)
Working off one of the best scrums in the Mitre 10 Cup and with the sharpshooter Bryn Gatland calling the shots, North Harbour has won four of its last five and can see the Premiership semifinals in tantalising reach.
They have a crucial home crossover clash for the Lion Red Challenge Cup against Counties Manukau on Saturday before it all boils down to their final encounter with Bay of Plenty.
So, all options are still open for Harbour: semifinals, just out of the semis, or relegation. The pressure is on.
Canterbury: 19 points
Premiership: Tasman (a)
Premiership: Auckland (h)
A gut-wrenching away loss to Otago followed hard on the heels of a shellacking from Bay of Plenty, meaning the Cantabs’ season is in real danger of unravelling.
A win in Blenheim will release the pressure valve, if only for another week, but a defeat will have dire consequences, meaning they may have to beat Auckland in the last game to avoid relegation for the first time in the 10-year history of the two-tiered competition.
Otago: 29 points
Championship: Southland (a)
Crossover: Tasman (h)
Otago has confirmed a home Championship semifinal after defeating Canterbury for the first time in 15 years.
A win in its oldest rivalry for the Donald Stuart Memorial Trophy on Friday night will go a long way to sealing top berth, dependent on how the Magpies finish off. Otago has a compelling mix of a seasoned pack and X-factor backs which has served it well in 2020.
Hawke’s Bay: 26 points
Crossover: Wellington (RS, h)
Championship: Taranaki (a)
The Magpies have twin aims this Sunday against the Lions: win and retain the Shield for the summer and, that done, lock in a home semifinal.
This is their third Shield defence and the McLean Park crowd will get right behind them. Two shock defeats could, in theory, see them drop to third or fourth, but we just cannot see that happening.
Northland: 18 points
Crossover: Auckland (a)
Crossover: Waikato (h)
Northland may yet rue its lack of bonus points.
The Taniwha have just two to augment their four wins, but will be annoyed at dropping a home crossover match to North Harbour last weekend. They had some good news in that Scott Gregory is free to play after his red card, but they haven’t won at Eden Park since 2008. Still, if Southland falls to Otago, and Counties Manukau and Manawatu also taste defeat, the Taniwha will be into the semifinals, and can relax and play freely in Kaikohe against Waikato.
Taranaki: 17 points
Championship: Manawatu (a)
Championship: Hawke’s Bay (h)
Taranaki will need to swiftly put a heart-breaking loss to the Steelers to bed, and focus on beating the Turbos.
Do that and the Bulls will confirm the semifinals berth that eluded them in 2019. They could still lose and make the semis, but that would ramp up the heat in the final round against the Magpies.
Southland: 11 points
Championship: Otago (h)
Championship: Counties Manukau (a)
Southland is much tougher to beat in 2020, and the Stags were 2-2 early, but they will be frustrated at the defeat to the Turbos last weekend.
It means that defeat to Otago in its traditional match on Friday night will knock them out of semis contention. But two victories could see them sneak in, which would be extraordinary and marvellous in equal measure.
Counties Manukau: 10 points
Crossover: North Harbour (a)
Championship: Southland (h)
Defence is the issue for the Steelers in 2020, holding the second worst record for points conceded.
But they will be thankful they won after 88 minutes in Inglewood to bring up their second victory of the season. Tai Lavea’s men will need to pull out all the stops to upset North Harbour in Albany and maintain that flicker of hope for the semis. But they’ll have to do it without Kieran Read, who was immense versus the Naki.
Manawatu: 9 points
Championship: Taranaki (h)
Crossover: Wellington (a)
The Turbos are realistically out of the running, but will take heart from their first win, last weekend against Southland.
They always get up for Taranaki, so they could yet upset the Championship semifinal applecart, but it would need two Ws, and a minor miracle, for them to reach the top four.