23 Oct 2020

Farah Palmer Cup: Women in power put Canterbury on top

9:02 am on 23 October 2020

It's semi-final weekend for women's rugby's Farah Palmer Cup, can anyone stop Canterbury from marching to a fourth straight crown?

Canterbury captain Alana Bremner scores a try.

Canterbury captain Alana Bremner scores a try. Photo: www.photosport.nz Photosport Ltd 2020

The defending champions, Manawatu, Waikato and Auckland vying for a place in the title decider.

Canterbury are favourites to progress and claim another national trophy, but Waikato and Auckland are both battle hardened and bullish about their chances.

Waikato held off Auckland last weekend to take top spot in the North pool and set up a semi-final showdown with Manawatu in Hamilton on Sunday, much to the delight of captain Chelsea Alley.

"It's quite hard because you watch all the games from the southern pool, but you never actually quite know how they play or how hard the hits are. So, we're doing our homework on Manawatu and the girls are feeling pretty confident and we have a little more edge and fire in the bellies knowing that it's finals week."

Chelsea Alley playing for Waikato.

Chelsea Alley playing for Waikato. Photo: © Copyright Andrew Cornaga 2020 / www.photosport.nz / Photosport Ltd

Black Ferns midfielder Alley is ready for the Manawatu challenge but she concedes there's an element of the unknown heading into Sunday's clash, with the North and South pools not crossing over during the regular season.

She's optimistic Waikato will emerge victorious after building what she describes as an unrivalled team 'culture'.

"I think that (culture) this year has contributed heaps to our success on the field. This is the first year we've had everyone there for pre-season camp at the start of the year because usually the Black Ferns and Sevens girls are away. Obviously with Covid that didn't happen so we've been able to build a really good culture from the get go."

Covid-19 wrecked the New Zealand women's team's chances of playing this year, but Alley says the silver lining has been having the Black Ferns and national Sevens players available for the full Farah Palmer Cup season.

"You can't put a price on experience, so having women like Carla Hohepa come back and Stacey Fluhler and Tenika Willison and bring their experience and mana they have is incredible. We also have a lot of school girls in our team and I remember back when I was at school if I got to play alongside some of the Black Ferns I was pretty stoked."

Canterbury captain and blindside Alana Bremner agrees and loves having the likes of Black Ferns halfback Kendra Cocksedge in her side.

Wellington prop Alice Soper says the influence of such players can't be overestimated.

"Not only is she fantastic at managing a team around the park, she can also manage refs better than anyone, she's probably better than (former All Blacks captain) Richie McCaw was."

Canterbury topped the South pool and they host Auckland in the first semi-final on Saturday.

The southerners won all five of their games by an average of 56 points, but Waikato captain Alley wonders if such an easy path to the playoffs could leave the red and blacks vulnerable.

"Canterbury have won for three years in a row now so they are definitely sitting at the top of the perch. But, the southern pool was probably slightly easier so they could be a little underdone compared to the northern pool. Also Auckland are scattered with Black Ferns and if they show up on the day and really want to bring it, it should be a good game."

Bremner concedes Auckland have had a harder build up but she says Canterbury aren't lacking motivation, with the chance to win a fourth straight national crown.

"That's been in the back of most of our minds since the start of the season. It's getting close to the end of the competition now and it is getting talked about a little bit more. We're just taking it each game at a time though and focusing on Auckland because if we win this week we won't get the opportunity to go for the four-peat."

Soper believes Canterbury are odds on to take the title and says they're reaping the rewards of putting women in positions of power.

"There's a really strong feeling of the sisterhood within that team and I really noted when we (Wellington) travelled down to Christchurch and played against them, just how many women they had in their setup. A lot of the coaches and management crew that was around them were all strong women as well and there's a sense of belief and confidence that comes from that."

Canterbury and their fans will be hoping that belief translates into victory over Auckland tomorrow afternoon.