First 2012 Ranfurly Shield challenge confirmed
Taranaki will take the Ranfurly Shield out of New Plymouth for a challenge for the first time in 98 years when they line up against King Country at Inglewood.
The King Country Rugby Union was one of seven unions who formally requested the chance to challenge for one of the game's oldest and most unique prizes.
Coach Colin Cooper and his troops engineered a famous victory against Southland during this season’s ITM Cup at Rugby Park Stadium on August 24, with five Beauden Barrett penalties giving them a 15-12 victory and possession of arguably New Zealand rugby’s holy grail.
It was also 15 years from that day that Taranaki had last won the shield, beating Auckland 42-39 in 1996.
They have already successfully defended the Log o’Wood once, beating eventual ITM Cup championship winners Hawke’s Bay 29-11.
New Zealand’s Inglewood, less than 20 km southeast of New Plymouth, may not be as famous as it’s Los Angeles counterpart, but the dairy farming town has a proud rugby history.
Dave Loveridge, the 54-test scrumhalf who was in his pomp one of the greatest in his position in the world, is part of local rugby folklore, hailing from Inglewood and part of the famous Taranaki ‘golden ages’ where they held the Shield for two record tenures between 1957-1959 and 1963-1965.
TET Stadium will pack in more than Inglewood’s local population of roughly 3,000, with the local ground famous for its mondo running track, the same surface that is used in Olympic competition – while the ground was recently upgraded to conform to Rugby World Cup specifications.
The visit outside of New Plymouth though comes with a little historical risk, as Taranaki lost the Shield in 1914 when playing Wellington at Victoria Park in Stratford.
Further to this is the fact that Taranaki’s Investec Super Rugby players will be unavailable – with the Hurricanes boasting more players from New Plymouth than in recent years.
Michael Bent, Jason Eaton, James Broadhurst, Beauden Barrett, Jayden Hayward and Andre Taylor will be big losses for Cooper when preparing for his second Shield defence.
However the former long serving former Hurricanes mentor said that this would have positive spillover effects for Taranaki, meaning that players from local club ranks could get a chance to defend the famous Shield.
King Country will suit up for their first challenge since 1998, when they were unsuccessful against Waikato.
Taranaki will play a second pre-season challenge against Wanganui, with details to be announced in the near future.
The Ranfurly Shield
In 1901 the Governor of New Zealand, the Earl of Ranfurly, announced that he would give the then New Zealand Rugby Football Union (the 'football' was removed from the title in 2006) a cup to be used as a prize for a competition of their choosing.
While the trophy actually ended up being a Shield, the NZRFU said it would be awarded to the union with the best overall record in the 1902 calendar season, which meant Auckland first held the Log o'Wood as they were unbeaten that year.
Auckland actually at the time had been undefeated for six seasons from 1897.
With a challenge system at home devised, Auckland, who were on tour in 1903, did not play any home games so the Ranfurly Shield stayed up north for 12 months.
The first official defence was against Wellington in 1904, and the Lions won, although after four successful challenges they then lost it to none other than Auckland.
The original holders would repel 23 challenges until Taranaki became the third union to win the Shield in 1913.