All Black first-fives Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo'unga are set to add another chapter to their battle for the All Black #10 jersey this weekend when Canterbury host Taranaki in the Mitre 10 Cup on Saturday.
While Canterbury v Taranaki is not usually billed as a fierce rivalry, Saturday's game will have some added spice to it as Canterbury put the prized Ranfurly Shield up against Gold and Amber. The Ranfurly Shield, colloquially known as the "Log o' Wood", is one of the most prized trophies in New Zealand and a piece of silverware many great All Blacks never laid a hand on.
Canterbury is the current holders of the Shield, having taken it off of Otago during the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup. Before then, Canterbury last held the Shield back in 2017, having beaten Waikato the year before. Taranaki stunned Canterbury 43-55 in 2017 to claim the Shield and will look to repeat that year's effort with their squad boosted by the Barretts.
Richie Mo'unga will remember that 43-55 defeat very well, having started the game at first-five for Canterbury. In the modern era of professional rugby, few All Blacks would be contesting for the Shield due to test commitments but this weekend's game will see arguably New Zealand's two best players battle it out for one New Zealand's oldest trophies in one of the country's oldest rugby traditions. It's taken a pandemic for the occasion to arise but it is certainly one you won't want to miss.
What makes the Shield Special?
One of the oldest trophies in New Zealand Rugby (over 100 years old), the Ranfurly Shield has traditionally seen some of the bigger provincial sides host some of the smaller sides to defend the Shield with a number of supporters traditionally making the trip for the game. It has also gives a number of part-time players the opportunity to take the pitch and face off against All Blacks.
Once a team has won the Ranfurly Shield they are able to take the trophy back to their province where celebrations ensue with many flocking to catch a glimpse of the "Log o' Wood", the first defence of which always guarantees a near sell-out crowd.
A Ranfurly Shield game is also known for bringing the best out of the two sides with Challengers known to cause an upset or two while holders have also managed to come back from near impossible deficits to retain the Shield.
Former Otago coach Gordon Hunter explained the scene in the dressing shed as "like being in a room with 30 people whose Dads had all died at the one time". This was after Otago lost the 1994 challenge to Canterbury to a last gasp penalty by Andrew Mehrtens. [Via: Stuff.co.nz]
How does it work?
Unlike any other trophy in world rugby, the Ranfurly Shield is based on a challenge system with the holding union required to defend the Shield in challenge matches, and a successful challenger becomes the new holder of the Shield.
The new holder of the "Log o' Wood" automatically puts it up for a challenge at all their remaining home games.
Since the advent of the National Provincial Championship (NPC), or Mitre 10 Cup, in 1976, and its successors, all home games (but not knockout playoff games) are automatically challenge matches.
The Shield holder (currently Canterbury) is required to accept at least seven challenges and is not required to defend the Shield in away games, although they may choose to do so.
Often teams will defend the Shield in pre-season games, for example, Canterbury put the Shield up against North Otago in their friendly match ahead of the 2020 Mitre 10 Cup season.
In 2012 the last of the small shields which are used to engrave the winner's names onto the main Shield were filled when Waikato lifted the Shield, so the whole set was replaced to allow room for more winners in the future as well as recognising those teams who have held it.
'Shield Fever' is used to describe some of the madness that comes with the challenge for the Shield. Often the Shield has changed hands numerous times in short periods of time while winning the Shield has also caused massive celebrations and led to the 'Log o Wood' being damaged.
In 2013 'Shield Fever' ran rampant as Otago lifted the iconic "Log o' Wood" for the first time since 1957.
Hawke's Bay also tasted success winning the Shield for the first time since 1969, but Counties Manakau became first time holders of the Shield and ended the year with it in their possession.
The following year Hawke's Bay won the Shield back and successfully defended it until their final challenge in 2015 where they were beaten by Waikato.
Canterbury took the Shield off Waikato on 28 Septemeber 2016, winning the match 23-29. They won their first defence against North Harbour later that year and held the Shield for the offseason.
History of the Shield
The Earl of Ranfurly, who donated the Shield, was the Patron of the then New Zealand Rugby Football Union and Governor of New Zealand. The original prize was supposed to be a cup but, upon its unveiling, was discovered to be a shield, with a centrepiece showing an association football match.
The "Log o' Wood" then underwent the first of a series of upgrades throughout its history, which can still be seen today, before being presented to Auckland for their unbeaten season in 1902. In 1904 the first challenge was held and Wellington became the first side to win a Shield challenge.
Since that first match, there have been more than 600 contests at grounds all around the country, every Provincial Union has challenged for the Shield but only 17 have held it and Shield Fever continues. Winners' names are traditionally engraved on small shields, along with the years in which they held it.
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