Over the years, rugby's national provincial championship has come in for plenty of criticism. That has not diminished with the new format of what is now the ITM Cup. But tonight those brickbats will count for nought for the people of Taranaki and Tasman as their teams contest the final in New Plymouth.
This is the stuff of dreams for both provinces. Taranaki, while a regular producer of All Blacks, has never had a team strong enough to contest the final, while Tasman, a combination of the Marlborough and Nelson Bays unions, was, until recently, a rugby backwater. Both were accustomed to being relatively easy pickings for the major unions that have dominated the championship.
Both, however, also place a far greater emphasis on the ITM Cup than most of their perennial conquerors. It is a matter of provincial pride and passion, and their games attract large crowds when they are doing well. New Plymouth's 21,000-seater Yarrow Stadium will be full tonight.
Astute player recruitment, underpinned by this strong support, has enabled the two to this season smash provincial rugby's mould.
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That is not to say their success represents a shift in the game's power base. The two unions boast just one All Black, Taranaki's Beauden Barrett. Nonetheless, they have provided a wonderful service by refreshing the competition, re-emphasising its importance for player development, and playing exciting rugby of a high standard.
Deservedly, one will tonight proudly add its name to the list of provinces that have won the national championship.