The Mitre 10 Cup has only been in action for three rounds so far this year, yet the Ranfurly Shield has already been held aloft by three teams.
Heading into the 2020 campaign after snatching the Log O’ Wood off Otago towards the end of last year, Canterbury were only able to hold off challenges from North Harbour and North Otago before the Barrett brothers and Lachlan Boshier guided Taranaki an upset win in Christchurch.
The Bulls’ Ranfurly Shield celebrations ended almost as soon as they started, however, as Otago went to Inglewood to re-claim the silverware just six matches after they lost it.
Their 30-19 victory at TET Stadium brought Taranaki’s short-lived Ranfurly Shield reign to a close after only eight days – the third-shortest tenure in the Shield’s 116-year history.
Only three other teams throughout history have held onto one of the most prized possessions in New Zealand provincial rugby for a shorter period than that.
Both Wellington (1963) and Waikato (2007) won and lost the Ranfurly Shield within the space of seven days – the Lions falling short against Taranaki after clinching it off Auckland, while the Mooloos handed it over to Canterbury a week after ending North Harbour’s first-ever Shield success.
Neither of them suffered the misfortune of Hawke’s Bay, though, who surrendered the Log O’ Wood to Counties Manukau just six days after claiming the Shield off Otago in 2013.
The rapid succession of Ranfurly Shield handovers seven years ago broke a remarkable run of milestones, with the Steelers winning the Log O’ Wood for the first time in their history, and the Magpies breaking a 44-year Shield drought.
Even Otago – whose loss to Hawke’s Bay brought an end to a Ranfurly Shield tenure of just nine days, the fourth-shortest run of all-time – had broken a 56-year Shield-less spell when they defeated Waikato 216 hours earlier.
With the Razorbacks becoming the third side already this season to get their hands on the Log O’ Wood, there are eerie parallels between the sequence of Shield results from 2013 and those of 2020.
Otago will need to be wary of the series of events from seven years ago from coming to fruition once more when they again host Hawke’s Bay in their first Ranfurly Shield defence in Dunedin this Sunday.
A repeat of the Magpies’ 20-19 win over the hosts in 2013 would condemn Otago to a Shield reign of just seven days, the second-equal shortest of all-time and even shorter than the tenure that abruptly came to an end for Taranaki.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 27, 2020
Otago head coach Tom Donnelly was playing at lock for his side in that game, while All Blacks hooker Liam Coltman and squad captain Michael Collins were both involved to varying degrees as well.
All three will need to draw on their experiences of that day if their youthful side is to keep the Magpies, who are coming off an upset win over the year’s first Ranfurly Shield holders Canterbury, at bay.
That will be no easy task, though, when Hawke’s Bay boast similar experience through captain Ash Dixon and veteran flanker Brendon O’Connor, both of whom were part of the Magpies squad that captured the Shield off Otago all those years ago.
One-test All Blacks loose forward Gareth Evans was donning the blue and gold jersey in that match, but has since switched back to his home province and won the Shield with the Bay in 2014 when they defeated Counties nearly a year to the day after they lost to the Steelers.
Returning from injury in the win over Canterbury in Napier on Saturday, expect Evans to play a key role in a top-of-the-table Championship clash that could fall either way.
While there’s no certainty over who will walk away victorious this coming Sunday, one thing is for sure in that there’s no telling what could happen in the fight for the Ranfurly Shield.
Shortest Ranfurly Shield tenures
1. Hawke’s Bay (six days); 1 – 7 September 2013
2= Wellington (seven days); 31 August – 7 September 1963
2= Waikato (seven days); 24 August – 1 September 2007
4. Taranaki (eight days); 19-27 September 2020
5. Otago (nine days); 23 August – 1 September 2013
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