There is a logjam of talented loose forwards in Auckland's ITM Cup squad, but put the ring on the fact that Blake Gibson will start somewhere in the front-line mix.

The 20-year-old scored two tries in his nine outings in 2014, starting four games at either No 6 or 8 and coming off the pine on five occasions. He made quite an impression, secured a Blues contract and then looked the goods as injury cover before picking up no less than three players' player of the match awards at the World Rugby Under 20 championships as he shifted to openside after fellow Aucklander Mitch Karpik went down injured.

Gibson was nursing a slight wrist injury, so did not play in Auckland's pre-season hitout against Bay of Plenty in Whakatane yesterday, but should be in line to face North Harbour on Thursday. In a quirk of the draw, Auckland does not play either BOP or Harbour in the ITM Cup, meaning there will be no John Drake Boot clash nor the Battle of the Bridge in 2015.

As to what jersey number Gibson will wear this season...


"We haven't really discussed that too much yet. We'll see what happens. Akira (Ioane) can play 6 or 8. I guess it just gives us options," said Gibson.

It certainly does. Joe Edwards is also a tight loose forward, while Waitemata No 8 Airi Hunt is waiting in the wings after a Blues appearance.

Gibson is well placed to comment on the status of the ITM Cup in the face of the rise of First XV rugby, having captained the crack 2013 St Kentigern side.

"You see guys coming out of school and making good inroads into the ITM Cup. But this competition is still vital to them getting to the next level of Super Rugby," he said.

With one or two notable exceptions, Super Rugby coaches are still picking their side out of the ITM Cup, not the Auckland 1A.

Gibson is under no illusions as to how tough the ITM Cup is, especially when one factors in the short turnarounds, of which each side will have two.

"Every team can beat you. Every crossover game is tough."

The Blues' woes have given Auckland a bad rap, the province having made four semifinals in the last five seasons while the franchise has crashed since 2011.

"There are still little things to work on to make more consistent throughout the ITM.

Hopefully we can push for the final and not just get cut short at the semis."

A crack at the Ranfurly Shield would be nice, too, the union not having challenged in some time. September 24 is pencilled in.

"Hawke's Bay have got a pretty good team on paper. Hopefully they can hold onto it (until then). It would be awesome to get our hands on that," said Gibson.