The semifinals according to...

Steve Hepburn.
Steve Hepburn
The four semifinals of the Mitre 10 Cup get under way tonight. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn looks at the chances of the eight teams.


Canterbury v North Harbour
Christchurch, tomorrow, 5.05pm

Why Canterbury win? The red and blacks have been here before and know what to do. They have No8 Luke Whitelock back and he gives the side impetus to go forward and get on the front foot. Having lost the Ranfurly Shield, the side will be motivated to salvage something from the season.

Why North Harbour win? The side has some real X factor out wide in Shaun Stevenson and Tevita Li. It also has first five-eighth Bryn Gatland, who has grown in the past 18 months. Up front, the side has not buckled and in veteran Jarrad Hoeata has added a hard edge to its play.

What will happen? North Harbour will come out and give it a go but will make mistakes, and slowly, Canterbury will pull away.

Score prediction: 35-17 

Taranaki v Tasman
New Plymouth, tomorrow, 7.35pm

Why Taranaki win? It finished top of the pile and forget about its last-round loss to North Harbour, when it played a shadow side. A full-strength Taranaki team has few weaknesses and has some real matchwinners in the backs. Home-ground advantage counts in this match too. Last match for coach Colin Cooper as well.

Why Tasman win? Tasman lost the regular-season match to Taranaki but had a red card in the first half that killed its chances. It has a solid tight five, rugged loose forwards and creative backs. James Lowe is off to Ireland when the Tasman season finishes and will want to go out with a bang.

What will happen? Taranaki at home is a formidable opponent and will not want to go out before the big show next week. Look to it to start fast and not slow down.

Score prediction: 39-22



Wellington v Northland
Wellington, tonight, 7.35pm

Why Wellington win? The men from the capital have been the form team all year and have lost just one game — a narrow defeat to Tasman. The team has some real strike weapons not only out wide but in the forward pack, and has been winning big all season. Has plenty of motivation after falling at this hurdle last season.

Why Northland win? The Taniwha won just one game last season but has made some big improvements this season. It will just go out there and give it a go. Wellington has some good players but they have never been put under any pressure this season. If Northland can do that, then who knows what will happen.What will happen? Wellington has too much power and pace and will do it going away.

Score prediction: 47-14

Bay of Plenty v Otago
Tauranga, tomorrow, 2.35pm

Why Bay of Plenty win? The home team looked sharp and electric in beating Otago a couple of weeks ago. It has some real guile and speed in the backline, while its forward pack is sizeable and does not step back. Plus it is at home, with the sun likely to be out, in front of a big crowd.

Why Otago win? The men from the South have been here the past three years so know what it is about. The side has been handy in every game this year and gets the job done effectively. It all starts at the set piece and that is where Otago has been dominant.

What will happen? The game will be close, damn close. May come down to one key moment.

Score prediction: 25-25 at fulltime, with the team in blue and gold winning in the 20 minutes of extra time.

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