The opening round of the Mitre 10 Cup was a special one as the bulk of the All Blacks squad were made available to their regional sides, an extremely rare occurrence as New Zealand's top players are usually on test duty during the competition.
The Mitre 10 Cup is usually filled with excellent tries and thrilling encounters as some of New Zealand's youngsters make their first steps into professional rugby and older heads extend their playing careers.
The opening round of the competition certainly did not disappoint with defending champions, Tasman, putting on a show to beat Counties 24-41 while fourteen-time champions Canterbury cruised to victory over North Harbour. Elsewhere, Waikato surged to an emphatic 53-28 victory over Wellington, Auckland smashed Otago 6-38 and Northland cruised to a 43-26 victory over Manawatu.
We take a look at how all the All Blacks fared in the opening round of the competition.
North Harbour 29-43 Canterbury
Current All Black squad members Codie Taylor, Samuel Whitelock, Cullen Grace, Richie Mo'unga, Joe Moody and George Bridge all turned out for Canterbury in the clash with Karl Tu'inukuafe starting at loosehead for North Harbour.
Canterbury had a stacked line up with former All Black Luke Romano lining up alongside Sam Whitelock with one test All Black Brett Cameron at flyhalf and Mitchell Drummond on the bench. Whitelock was at his usual best at the lineouts and was all over the park clearing out rucks while his Crusaders and All Black teammate, Codie Taylor, dotting down twice for Canterbury. Taylor's first try was from a strong Canterbury driving maul while his second was a stroll in after a pinpoint cross-kick from Richie Mo'unga who came off the bench to earn his 50th Canterbury cap.
All Black in waiting, Cullen Grace dotted down under the sticks, on his return from injury, as he broke off a maul with Luke Romano supporting him. While Brett Cameron had an excellent game at first five for Canterbury, Mo'unga starred off the bench coming on in the 51st minute assisting Codie Taylor's second try and had some excellent touches. All Black winger George Bridge weaved his way past two defenders to score Canterbury's final try of the game after yet another solid outing on the wing.
Karl Tu'inukuafe managed to somewhat hold his own at scrum time with Harbour on the back foot in the set pieces against an incredibly strong Canterbury pack.
Waikato 53-28 Wellington
Waikato welcomed back Anton Lienert-Brown and Damian McKenzie while Wellington had the likes of Asafo Aumua, Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara in their starting line up as well as former All Blacks' winger Julian Savea making his return to New Zealand Rugby for the side. Adding to Wellington's test experience was Vaea Fifita on the blindside while former All Blacks flanker Adam Thomson, 38, made his debut for Waikato having previously played Mitre 10 Cup with Otago. Finally, two test All Black Luke Jacobson started at no.8 for Waikato.
Wellington started the game brightest and it was the Saveas who got Wellington off on the front foot with younger brother Ardie assisting brother Julian from the back of the scrum with 'the Bus' scoring out wide. Vaea Fifita dotted down from the back of the driving maul and TJ Perenara assisted a try for Conor Garden-Bachop as Waikato led 23-21 at half time. Young Waikato scrumhalf Xavier Roe shone for Waikato scoring a first-half try before setting up Thomson for his try on debut.
Having assisted Julian in the first half, Ardie Savea muscled his way over the line after a driving maul where he stood off and received the ball from Perenara to score. Savea's try would be the final impact Wellington had on the scoreboard as Damian McKenzie picked off a poor pass from TJ Perenara to dart over 80 metres to score.
McKenzie ran the show for Waikato scoring 33 points in the victory while combining well on the attack with the likes of Fletcher Smith, Anton Liernert-Brown and Quinn Tupaea.
Otago 6-38 Auckland
Auckland had a powerful pack at their disposal this weekend against Otago with All Black squad members Alex Hodgman and Ofa Tuungafasi starting in the front row while Patrick Tuipulotu, Akira Ioane and Hoskins Sotutu featured in the back five of the pack. Meanwhile, their backs were boosted by Rieko Ioane at outside centre and Caleb Clarke on the wing. Meanwhile, Otago didn't have any current All Black squad members in their matchday 23 but did have Josh Ioane running things at first five and Liam Coltman packing down at hooker.
The impact of the All Blacks in the Auckland pack showed early on with an excellent driving maul which resulted in a try for hooker Leni Apisai. Josh Ioane's boot kept Otago in the game early on but a nicely run line by AJ Lam and dazzling break from Jordan Trainor to set up Apisai for his second try saw Auckland lead 6-24 at half time.
Rieko Ioane crossed the whitewash early in the second half after a wonderful break from Harry Plummer before Auckland's pack flexed its muscles once again with a powerful scrum resulting in a penalty try. The game died down somewhat thereafter with Otago managing to keep Auckland scoreless for half an hour despite two yellow cards and red card to Sio Tomkinson.
While Auckland's backs dazzled in the victory, the platform was well and truly set by the Auckland pack with All Black forwards all grafting throughout the match.
Counties Manukau 24-41 Tasman
The Counties pack was majorly boosted this weekend with All Black squad members Nepo Laulala and Dalton Papalii packing down with former All Black captain Kieran Read, who has returned to rugby in New Zealand on a short term deal from his Japanese club Toyota Verblitz.
Meanwhile, Tasman benefitted in both the pack and out wide with Tyrel Lomax and Shannon Frizell starting upfront with Sevu Reece and Will Jordan in the back tree. Jordan and Reece were threatening throughout the game, especially on the counter, with Jordan set Leicester Fainga'anuku up for a wonderful try.
Kieran Read had an impactful 41 minutes for Counties while Dalton Papali'i continued his fantastic try-scoring form dotting down before half time for his side. Shannon Frizell also found his way over the line for Tasman. Frizell was a key figure in the Tasman lineout throughout the game while Papali'i was extremely impactful for Counties and finally, Laulala was as solid as ever upfront for the Steelers.
Northland 43-26 Manawatu
As current All Black squad members go just Jack Goodhue (Northland) and Aaron Smith (Manawatu) took the field on Sunday in the clash between Northland and Manawatu.
However, there were a number of standout names that did feature in the clash with Jack's twin brother Josh packing down in the second row for Northland with former All Black Rene Ranger partnering Jack in the midfield for the Taniwha. On the opposite side of the pitch Goodhue's Crusaders' teammate, Mike Alaalatoa started at tighthead prop for the Turbos who had former All Black Nehe Milner-Skudder at fullback as well as Aaron Smith and Aaron Cruden's brother Stewart on the bench.
The Tubos raced into the lead in the first 20 minutes scoring a brace of tries to lead 3-20 before Josh Goodhue hit back for the hosts. Jack Goodhue showed his class in the 30th minute with a lovely offload putting Sam Nock clear to score under the sticks.
A great set piece try saw Northland lead 27-20 at half time with Northland adding to it with an early try in the second. Aaron Smith was added to the fray early on in the second and the All Black scrumhalf's slick passing saw the Turbos attack with much more vigour but it didn't pay much more dividends than a three-pointer. Northland took control of the latter stages of the game with Nehe Milner-Skudder going to the sin bin for an intentional knockdown.
Northland scored a try from a rolling maul before Rene Ranger put the final touches on the victory as he darted down the touchline to seal the 43-26 victory.
Taranaki 36-29 Bay of Plenty
The Barrett brothers Beauden and Jordie line up for Taranaki for the first time ever. Kevin Barrett, the Barrett brothers' father, was a Taranaki stalwart appearing in 167 matches and scoring 99 points up until his retirement at the end of 1999. While Jordie Barrett made the switch from Canterbury to Taranaki in 2017, Sunday saw him for the side while Beauden will donned the colours of his home region for the first time since 2015.
Joining the Barretts in the amber and black was 20-year-old Tupou Vaa'i who earned his test call up off the back of his Super Rugby form. On the opposite side of the pitch, All Black captain Sam Cane made his return from injury starting at no.8 for the Bay of Plenty while three test All Black Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi started at scrumhalf.
The Barretts didn't take long to make their presences known with the pair combining superbly to put Lewi Ormond away down the touchline with the winger offloading to Tupou Vaa'i to score in just the third minute of the game.
Chase Tiatia broke through the Naki defence to set up Tahuriorangi for a try with the Bay dominating upfront with Keepa Mewett dotting down. Lachlan Boshier was unlucky not to make the All Blacks squad after a stellar 2020 with the flanker once again shining. He put Ricky Riccitelli away for a try from a lineout drive as Jordie Barrett added the extras and a penalty to give Taranaki a 17-14 lead after half an hour. Emoni Naraawa scored to put the Bay in front before half time but a strong rolling maul lead to a penalty try for the hosts who lead 24-19 at the break
The Barretts were in good form for Naki as they shifted the ball wide quickly and accurately throughout the game. However, it was Vaa'i who got on the scoresheet once again as he ran a neat line to score in the 50th minutes. Jordie Barrett knocked over the extras but missed a later penalty.
Jordie made up for it by scoring a try in the 70th minute. The Bay scored a late try after Otere Black threw an excellent skip pass out to Fa'asiu Fuatai. Cane played the full 80 minutes at No.8 but has now dreadful 10-match losing streak in 2020.
Southland 16-10 Hawke's Bay
Brad Weber came off the bench in a forgettable loss for Hawke's Bay.
Southland had not won a single game in three years before the game on Sunday with two tries from Greg Pleasants-Tate guiding Southland to a 16-10 victory over the Magpies.