Season Preview: Farah Palmer Cup

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The talismanic halfback sits on 968 career competition points, so 32 more will see her become the first woman to hit the 1000 mark. The Black Ferns star is well over 400 clear of Emma Jensen and Selica Winiata.


After a tight 8-7 victory over Waikato to claim the 2020 title, Canterbury knows the competition is growing and 2021 looms as another step up, the FPC reverting to the Premiership-Championship format of 2019.


While Cocksedge holds most of Canterbury’s records, veteran front-rower Stephanie Te Ohaere-Fox, poised on 97 caps, will be eyeing the ton after becoming a second-time mum last year.


Under the leadership of Alana Bremner, who ran in eight tries in 2020 and Grace Brooker, who ran in six, Canterbury has recruited well with Otago Spirit No 10 Rosie Kelly and centre Amy du Plessis making the move north along with the talented and versatile Marcelle Parkes from Wellington. Watch too for the brilliant young sevens talent Jorja Miller, out of Christchurch GHS, who was doing the damage for her First XV and at the Condors Sevens last year.


As the JJ Stewart Trophy holder, Canterbury kicks off its defence of that coveted silverware on Saturday at home to the dangerous Counties Manukau Heat.


The Auckland Storm, under the new coaching duo of Willie Walker and Anna Richards, may not have been in the winner’s circle since 2015 but are not to be discounted. They have assembled a compelling mix of youth and experience, so watch for young lock Maia Roos, who will be a sponge off second-row partner Eloise Blackwell, and teenaged midfielder Sylvia Brunt. Auckland will face an injury-hit Volcanix on Saturday at Eden Park and will seek a statement early display as befitting its pedigree.

Waikato has the bye this weekend but will have designs on a first FPC crown after coming agonisingly close in 2020. Waikato has a similar make-up to the Storm, where the seasoned Chelsea Alley, Ariana Bayler et al will guide the likes of Renee Holmes, who had a breakout 2020 season at the back. Eight rookies are in the mix, a feature of the FPC where so many young talents, several who have first made their mark at the Ignite 7s, can make their way up the ranks with help from the older heads.


So Canterbury, Auckland and Waikato will be joined by Counties Manukau, Wellington, Otago and Bay of Plenty in the seven-team Premiership.


The Championship consists of six teams: Manawatu, who will not have Selica Winiata’s services until September, and Northland, both unlucky to be in this division, Hawke’s Bay, North Harbour, Taranaki and Tasman.


The FPC kicks off seven weeks earlier than in the crazy season of 2020 and will lead into the Black Ferns programme, as it will in 2022 ahead of the Women’s Rugby World Cup on these shores.


Some of the Black Ferns Sevens may see game time after the Tokyo Olympics (and MIQ). Their presence in 2020 really bolstered the FPC, especially in Northland, where Portia Woodman and Tyla Nathan-Wong were great value for the Kauri.


If pressed, I will tip Canterbury and Northland, who have made great strides in the last two seasons, as winners of their respective divisions.


The parity and standard in this competition is growing inexorably, and the split format is just the right vehicle for some of the developing unions to make their way up the ranks. The wider public will get the chance to see first-hand that growth as all 44 matches will be televised live on SKY.


Click HERE for the full Farah Palmer Cup draw. 


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Campbell Burnes

Campbell Burnes has written on rugby since 2000 for a wide variety of publications, both in print and online, whilst also contributing to television and radio shows. His major gigs have seen him at Rugby News magazine (2005-12), in which he covered 50 Test matches, and the New Zealand Herald (2014-17). Burnes is one of the few in rugby media to have played international rugby, having appeared for Manu Samoa in 1995 and 2000 (seven games) as a No 10. He is now the editor of Rugby News magazine and co-editor of the Rugby Almanack.