In 1902 Auckland became the first holders of the Shield because in that year it had the best record of any Provincial Union (the blue and whites were unbeaten that year). 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 unchecked as the Shield inspires and unifies communities like no other trophy in New Zealand sport.
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 to be a cup but on its unveiling was discovered to be a shield, with a centrepiece showing an association football match. The Shield then underwent the first of a series of upgrades throughout its history, before being presented to Auckland.
Winners' names are traditionally engraved on small shields, along with the years in which they held the Shield. In 2012 the last of these shields was filled in 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 run rampant in 2013 as Otago lifted the coveted ‘log ‘o wood’ for the first time since 1957. Hawke’s Bay also tasted success with their first Shield success since 1969. But the holders of the Shield at the end of the year were first time holders Counties-Manakau. In 2014, Hawke’s Bay wrested the Shield back from Counties-Manukau and went on to face 11 challengers before losing the prize to Waikato in the final challenge of 2015.
Waikato saw off six tough defences, including a draw with Taranaki before losing the Shield to Canterbury in late 2016. Canterbury's reign also lasted six defences before being stunned by Taranaki in one of the all-time great Ranfurly Shield clashes. After trailing 31-7, Taranaki stormed back to win 55-43 and lift the Shield for the first time since 2012.
There was more movement in 2018 with Taranaki and Waikato enjoying stints throughout the season before Otago finished as eventual holders.
In 2019, Otago held it for the majority of the season. Holding off challenges from Thames Valley, North Otago, Southland, Manawatu, Taranaki and Waikato, before losing it to Canterbury 35-25. Canterbury defended the Shield against North Harbour 31-25 and locked it up for the summer.