'It’s funny people say New Zealand rugby isn’t physical: Ex-England international Shields on being back home
Brad Shields is back home in Wellington and flourishing for the Lions in the NPC. On Saturday he played the entire 80 minutes in the sixth successful defence of the Ranfurly Sheild – a 56-25 thrashing of Counties Manukau.
Shields was even more influential the previous week. On August 27 he helped Wellington defeat Canterbury, featuring six current or former internationals, 36-31 in Christchurch. Four days earlier he made a colossal 24 tackles in the grim 7-0 blunting of Tasman.
Wellington resides at the top of the NPC table with an unblemished 6-0 record. They have won 18 consecutive matches stretching back to August 2022.
“The average age of the game has got younger from when I started playing. That’s a big change,” Shields told RugbyPass.
“The younger guys are confident, keen to learn, and good to be around but you’ve got to drive good standards all the time and help pave the way.”
Shields left New Zealand in 2018 after a storied career with the Hurricanes. He played 103 matches and helped the franchise win their only Super Rugby title in 2016. Between 2015 and 2017 the Hurricanes won more games (42) than any other club.
Overlooked by the All Blacks he went to England qualifying to play internationally through his Essex-born mum and Yorkshireman dad. He was capped eight times but missed selection for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
He played against the All Blacks a year earlier in a Test at Twickenham. England blew a 15-0 lead to lose by one. Sam Underhill was controversially denied a late try. His coach was the polarising Eddie Jones.
“I liked him and Steve Borthwick. Eddie got the best out of me mentally which drove my game to the highest levels it had been,” Shields said.
“He’s a bit obsessive as some people are at the elite level but he was very detailed and straight up. Often, he’d made headlines on purpose to take the spotlight off the boys. I didn’t mind that and besides he’s an entertainer and I think we get a bit stale in rugby sometimes.”
England’s World Cup build-up has been stale. They’ve only won four of their last 12 Tests suffering embarrassing defeats at Twickenham to Argentina (29-30), Fiji (22-30), and France (10-53). Shields believes; however, it would be unwise to write off the English.
“England can be a major threat if they click. If guys like Jack Willis and Ben Earl string games together in the back row they’ll be dangerous. They’ve got experience in the pack with the likes of Dan Cole, Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes. Manu Tuilagi can be a beast in midfield and Freddie Stewart is class under the high ball,” Shields said.
“At the moment, it’s just more competitive across the board. Look at the way Samoa took it Ireland. There are properly half a dozen teams that can realistically win the World Cup.”
Wasps won’t be winning anything anytime soon. On 17 October 2022, the club entered administration, resulting in relegation from the English Premiership and all staff being made redundant.
Between 2018 and 2021, Shields started 48 out of 50 Premiership games alone for Wasps. He departed owed a significant sum from unpaid image rights.
“It was a stressful time, and it was sudden how it all finished. We had some clues in the media that things were bad but the lack of respect from some people at the top was disappointing, and there’s still guys without contracts struggling to get on their feet,” Shields said.
“The rugby side of it was an awesome experience. I made lifelong friends but the way it ended leaves a sour taste.”
A brief spell at Perpignan rejuvenated Shields. He played solidly and enjoyed the large crowds and buzz for the sport in France.
From the humble suburb of Taita, home eventually beckoned. Shields. has brought some Northern Hemisphere grit to the Wellington Lions.
“It’s funny people say New Zealand rugby isn’t physical but in the Tasman game, we attempted 250 tackles.
“The Canterbury game was more your classic Wellington Lions. We put an emphasis on starting strong because we knew Canterbury goes the whole 80.
“Our set piece was under pressure we’ve got some work to do on that, but we scored a couple of ripper tries from nowhere and that is a real Wellington thing.”
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