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Andy Burt

Andy Burt is a Wellington-based writer for allblacks.com and co-host of the All Blacks Podcast. He covers all levels of the domestic game in New Zealand and monitors the international game closely.

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Is another 'Shield' chapter going to be written?

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Andy Burt     25 Sep 2018     Getty Images

Waikato had just come off a 10-match losing streak by beating Wellington in a high-scoring thriller in Hamilton, but had just four days to prepare for the shield challenge against the Bulls in New Plymouth.

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Taranaki, the Premiership powerhouse and proud Ranfurly Shield holder, were expected to dispose of Waikato comfortably and face sterner challenges from Auckland, North Harbour and Wellington in the coming weeks.

But those challenges never materialised as Waikato pulled off a stunning raid of the ‘Log o’ wood’ at the Bull Ring. In a simply remarkable first half, the Mooloos ran in five tries to lead 33-7 at the break and there was no coming back for Taranaki. It was the type of performance that showed just how visiting teams can lift for a shield challenge.

There’s many interesting statistical quirks with the Ranfurly Shield and Waikato’s victory brought some more. It was Taranaki’s 100th Ranfurly Shield game (either as a challenger or holder) and it was the third straight Taranaki shield tenure that had been ended by Waikato following unsuccessful defences in 1996 and 2012.

Waikato then just had another four days before defending the shield against Hawke’s Bay in Hamilton. A loss would have subjected the Mooloos to the ignominy of the shortest Ranfurly Shield reign in the 116-year history of the shield.
With the cowbells ringing around FMG Stadium, the Mooloos simply picked up where they left off against Taranaki by surging to a 42-22 win.

The holy grail of a Ranfurly Shield holder is to keep the shield for the summer – and it’s in touching distance for Waikato.

This Saturday afternoon, Waikato face Southland in their penultimate challenge of the year. The Stags may not have won a game in the Mitre 10 Cup since 2016 but funny things can happen in shield rugby.

Although the Stags are bottom of the log in the Championship, if they can lift the ‘Log o’ Wood’ in Hamilton all those disappointments over the past two seasons will be forgotten and a sea of maroon will greet them when they return to Invercargill Airport.

Southland’s last two reigns came at the expense of Canterbury in 2009 and 2011 when they were equally dismissed as a challenger. Waikato will need to be wary of the challenge from the Deep South.

If the Mooloos can get past Southland, they face Otago in the last defence of 2018.

Otago’s last shield reign came in 2013 which was five decades since they last held the shield in 1957. They will head to Hamilton desperate to ensure the wait between shield reigns is much shorter this time around.

Who can hold the Shield this year?

Waikato: Waikato are the current holders and face two more challenges this year against Southland in round seven and Otago in round nine.

Southland:
The Stags challenge for the shield in round seven. If they are successful they will face challenges from Bay of Plenty in round eight and Auckland in round nine.

Otago: Otago will challenge for the shield in round nine provided current holders Waikato get past Southland in round seven.

Bay of Plenty: If Southland lift the shield from Waikato in round seven, Bay of Plenty will challenge for it in round eight.

Auckland: If Southland lift the shield from Waikato in round seven and defend it against Bay of Plenty in round eight, Auckland will challenge Southland in round nine.

Northland: If Bay of Plenty lift the shield from Southland (should they beat Waikato), then Northland will challenge Bay of Plenty in round nine.

North Harbour:
If Auckland lift the shield from Southland (should they beat Waikato then defend against Bay of Plenty), North Harbour will challenge Auckland in round nine.