Ranfurly Shield still a prized possession


Canterbury took the Ranfurly Shield off Otago on Saturday.

This is unconfirmed (the source online is Wikipedia) but this was Canterbury’s 17th successful Ranfurly Shield challenge, eclipsing Auckland’s 16 tenures that they shared the record with previously. Waikato are next with 13 wins and Wellington fourth with 10.

This got us to thinking about the scarcity of Ranfurly Shield matches involving the Wellington Lions in the modern era.

Think that the Ranfurly Shield is largely passing Wellington by, and that the ‘same’ teams seem to be playing for it on an apparent regular basis? You would be mostly right on both fronts.

The Lions last won the Ranfurly Shield in September 2008, beating Auckland 27-0. They held it for six defences before losing it to Canterbury in 2009.

As an aside, a rugby highlight for this author was having it in his family living room for a fleeting 20 minutes for a photo shoot on a suburban stopover whilst acting as the WRFU courier driving it across to Masterton for a pre-season defence in 2009, and then being in sole possession of it driving it across the Remutakas on a dark and stormy night and trying not to miss a corner and go over the bank.

Between 2009 and 2019 (on Saturday night), Canterbury teams have won, lost and won again the Shield four times.

Since losing it in 2009, Wellington has had just one challenge. This was in 2014 when they challenged Hawke’s Bay and lost 14-36, which was also in the middle of one the province’s poorest seasons.

Since Wellington lost the Ranfurly Shield to Canterbury 14-36 (the same score as their loss to the Magpies five years later) on 29 August 2009 there have been 83 matches involving the Ranfurly Shield and Wellington has been involved in just one of these.

That number is disingenuous, as it includes the two matches every year (only one in 2011) that involve the Heartland unions

Taking these away, there have been 62 matches with the Ranfurly Shield on the line between the 14 National Provincial Championship teams.

These are outlined in the table below (note total possible is obviously reduced when the team is the holder as they cannot challenge themselves):

Southland have had a challenge every 7.7 NPC games played when they were not the holder. So only Tasman have had worse luck of the draw than the Lions – one challenge only and that was in 2012 rather than Wellington’s 2014.
That sounds bad but spare a thought for poor old West Coast. The table for the Heartland teams over the same period is as follows:

So three teams have not had a challenge over that period and of those Buller (2001) and West Coast (2000) have been waiting nearly 20 years.

With just one eligible match to come this season, there won’t be any Wellington challenges until at least 2020, which may happen as Wellington played Canterbury at home this year (and won 23-22).

Interestingly, in August 2008,  just prior to Wellington’s last successful challenge, the New Zealand Rugby Union released a competitions review that proposed dramatic changes to the Shield rules:

  • Once a team has successfully defended the Shield four times, all of the holder’s subsequent matches in league play would be mandatory defences, whether home or away. The Shield will not be at stake in semifinals or finals.

  • If an Air New Zealand Cup team holds the Shield at the end of the league season, that season’s winners of the Meads Cup and Lochore Cup, the two trophies contested in the second-level Heartland Championship, will receive automatic challenges in the following year.

The changes were not implemented but did receive support from Auckland, which held the Shield when the NZRU released its report

Interestingly still, it was a century ago that Wellington teams famously took the Ranfurly Shield on the road and accepted challenges from many of the top unions at their own grounds. In fact, in 16 defences during Wellington’s famous 1919-20 tenure, six were away from home – including three away defences in seven days in 1920 against South Canterbury, Otago and Southland. On this whirlwind 1920 tour they defeated South Canterbury (32-15) and Otago (16-5), but the jaded side lost it to Southland in Invercargill (6-17).

Perhaps holders could be brazen and take the Shield on the road for away matches?

Further reading:

The day Wellington teams re-took the Ranfurly Shield off Southland and beat the All Blacks MORE 

Wellington, Hawke’s Bay and the Ranfurly Shield in the 1920s MORE

1919 – the year the rugby roared. Part 3: the representative season MORE

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