It may have a new name but the Mitre 10 Cup is still the breeding ground of future All Blacks the rest of the rugby world can only dream about.

Fourteen teams battle for provincial pride over 11 weeks in more than 70 matches, before the pulsating play-offs begin, with the popular promotion - relegation between the Premiership and the Championship adding late season drama.

Former All Black and SKY TV rugby analyst Jeff Wilson says the Mitre 10 Cup plays an important role in New Zealand rugby.

"New Zealand rugby's competitive advantage is the ability to develop players at the national provincial game. That is why New Zealand Rugby invests heavily into this competition because they know how important it is," Wilson says.


"This is massively important in transitioning guys at age group rugby and school rugby into that next semi-professional arena, to continue their development for when that opportunity may come for Super Rugby.

"The (Mitre 10 Cup) happens over such a compressed period of time. You come together and usually have two to three weeks together of full on preparation with all your Super Rugby players and then you go for it.

"It is a high-pressured, difficult competition in such a limited time to get everything working and playing well."

Significant changes to the rules at the breakdown will be used in this year's Mitre 10 Cup in the interests of player safety and clarifying the breakdown interpretation.

Laws 15 and 16 that cover the tackle and ruck respectively have been amended.

The key message is that players stay on their feet for the duration of the breakdown, do not use their hands at the breakdown and do not contest the ball on the ground like Richie McCaw did in his pomp.

The attacking side is definitely at an advantage and quick ruck ball will speed the game up.

Thursday night's opening match between North Harbour and Counties Manukau showed how much cleaner the breakdown was, with Tauranga referee Shane McDermott having to blow far fewer penalties and give less instructions at the breakdown.

Eight provincial unions - Bay of Plenty, North Harbour, Northland, Otago, Southland, Taranaki, Tasman and Waikato - used the law trials during their premier club rugby seasons.

Bay of Plenty coach Clayton McMillan says the new laws have worked "in raising the body height of everybody at the breakdown, which makes it a lot safer and also a lot cleaner and easier to referee".

"From a spectator's point of view, once you get your head around the rules it is a little bit more black and white and not so grey.

"All the unions that elected to adopt the rules in club rugby were hoping to gain an advantage having played them through a club season.

"I certainly think there will be a small advantage for teams over the first couple of weeks as they are the sort of things that take a long time to adjust to."