Shield goes south for the summer
If only the Ranfurly Shield was up for grabs in playoff matches.
Wouldn’t that add some extra seasoning to next week’s Mitre 10 Cup championship semifinal between Otago and Hawke’s Bay in Dunedin?
No doubt Otago fans are overjoyed there is no chance of a repeat of 2013, when their side raided the Log o’ Wood from Waikato, only for the Magpies to roll into Forsyth Barr Stadium and snatch it nine days later.
Having kicked off their sixth shield tenure with a thrilling 23-19 win against Waikato on Saturday, it will be safely stowed away at Otago Rugby’s headquarters in North Dunedin for the summer.
That’s right, forget nine short days, it will be more like nine months before the treasured provincial prize goes on the line.
That said, the blue-and-golds don’t have long to celebrate just their second shield triumph in the past 61 years.
Promotion to the premiership section of the NPC was their primary objective heading into the season, and they’ve done enough to secure a home sudden-death match under the roof.
Hawke’s Bay have already toppled Otago in Dunedin this year (31-25 in round two), but have lost a bunch of players, including hooker Ash Dixon, to injury since then.
They’re coming off a 29-0 defeat to Tasman, who put on wetweather clinic in Nelson on Thursday night, a result which opened the door for Otago to leapfrog them into second place on the ladder.
The winner of their semifinal will play the winner of the semi between Waikato and Northland, 38-35 losers to Bay of Plenty on Saturday, in the promotion match.
Despite having a six-match winning streak snapped by Otago, Waikato finished as the top seed in the bottom tier of the competition, giving them hosting rights as long as they’re alive in the competition.
You get the feeling the Mooloos, clearly distraught after coughing up the shield to Otago, would like nothing more than another shot at them in front of their home fans.
As for the premiership section, the four semifinalists – Tasman, Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington – have been found.
Fresh from hammering Southland 56-8 on Wednesday, Auckland only needed two competition points to clinch the top seed, meaning they will host the Lions, who booted Taranaki into the championship section next year, courtesy of a 34-10 demolition job in New Plymouth on Friday night.
That would make for a tasty semifinal between second-seed Tasman and reigning champions Canterbury in Nelson.
Canterbury, winners of nine of the past 10 NPC titles, beat the Mako in Christchurch to seal the 2016 and 2017 titles, although Tasman beat them 25-17 in Blenheim in the opening round of this year’s competition.
The red-and-blacks were unconvincing 19-14 winners against Counties Manukau in Pukekohe on Saturday night, their first of eight wins without a bonus point.