Shield Fever fires up the fans


The Ranfurly Shield fires a different kind of passion.

Rugby fans love a bout of “Shield Fever” and the parochial energy and pride that comes with it.

Waikato first challenged for the famed Log O’Wood in 1932. While the challenge ended in a 17-6 loss, the Mooloos gave the powerful Canterbury side a huge fright after leading 6 nil at halftime.

The first of Waikato’s eleven tenures comes in 1951 when the Hugh McLaren captained side travelled to Whangarei to defeat North Auckland 6-3. The province had their first taste of Shield Fever, they loved it and that initial reign spawned a legend.

The first ever appearance of Mooloo, the iconic Waikato Rugby Union mascot, came weeks after the win over North Auckland. Waikato held the shield for two challenges before relinquishing it to Auckland, but the desire for that prize was now deeply entrenched in the province, as is the Shield rivalry against the Blue and White hoops.

After two short tenures ending in 1953 and 1966 respectively, Waikato would wait 16 years to get their hands back on the shield, which was achieved in spectacular fashion. Sparked by an intercept try to 19-year-old centre Arthur Stone, second division Waikato stunned first division powerhouse Auckland 7-3 to bring the log back down State Highway 1.

The Mooloos would repeat the dose in 1993, ending the near eight-year, 61 game reign of an All Blacks-laden Auckland, a side widely considered the greatest provincial team in New Zealand rugby history. Waikato’s longest reign would span three seasons and 21 defences from October 1997 to September 2000.

The most recent Shield victory came out of nowhere.

Waikato lost seven straight games to end the 2017 season to be relegated from the Premiership to the Championship. They lost the first three games of the 2018 campaign before stunning high-flying Wellington on a Wednesday night in Hamilton.

However very few people, outside the most loyal of red, yellow and black supporters, expected them to back up four days later and roll a well drilled and confident Taranaki. But they did and in emphatic fashion, reigniting their season in process and while they lost the Shield to Otago, Waikato would beat that same to team a fortnight later to earn their spot back in the Premiership.

So when can Waikato fans expect their next Ranfurly reign?

Circle Saturday 28 August on your calendars. As long as Hawkes Bay can defend the shield against East Coast, North Otago and Otago, that date will be Waikato’s next opportunity to reclaim the Ranfurly Shield and rekindle the love affair it’s had with the region.

Looking to the future

There is no shying away from the environment that provincial rugby unions, like the majority of businesses around the New Zealand, is currently operating in.
As the Waikato Rugby Union head into their second century, we caught up with new CEO Carl Moon to discuss the future of Waikato Rugby.

How would you describe the current state of Waikato rugby?

CARL MOON: As an organisation we are in good shape and looking to stabilise through 2021 and re-grow in 2022.  Our people, including our players, made significant sacrifices during 2020 to help keep us afloat, for which we are very grateful and respectful.  Waikato Rugby staff, contractors and volunteers are so committed to what we do here, and it is very humbling to be part of.  Longer term, there has been a lot of effort put in to secure the financial viability of Waikato Rugby over the past few years and we will look forward to becoming debt free in the next 12 months or so.  In terms of the game itself there is a lot of work going into supporting and nurturing our growth areas, such as girls and women’s rugby, while taking positive steps to address the challenges in other areas.  Club and Secondary School rugby has turned a corner and the future looks bright with some progressive leaders in those spaces.  We are much more open to ideas and trying new things than we have been as a very traditional sport across 100 years.

What’s the most immediate challenge that you face as CEO?

CM: The biggest challenge is keeping our staff and contractors in one piece, and not pushing them so hard that they fail to reach the finish line.  We are running pretty lean at the moment while we recover from 2020 but there is just as much work to do.  As I said above, we are fortunate to have such committed people here, but that comes with risk as they will rarely say no because they want to ensure our rugby community receives our full support and leadership for the good of the game.

What is the Waikato Rugby Union view on the proposed Silver Lake deal?

CM: Our Board and Executive continue to be very well briefed on the Silver Lake proposal.  NZR went to extensive lengths to make sure we all understood the proposal, and in our view, they listened and addressed any concerns proactively.  The biggest issue from the outset was the control of our future and ensuring we retained that through the mechanisms in place within the fine print, and ultimately our Board voted in favour as they were satisfied that the requisite protections were in place.  The financial outcomes are obviously pretty significant, but more importantly we felt that the relationship with Silver Lake offered much stronger growth opportunities than trying to make the much-needed shifts in the game through internal sources.

What is your vision for the Waikato Rugby Union?      

CM: To set Waikato Rugby up as a viable and financially secure entity that is much more self-sufficient and self-reliant in terms of revenue.  Our relationship with the Chiefs is much stronger now and will continue to grow.  This is critical as collectively we will both achieve our goals much more efficiently.  Ultimately, we must grow to understand our place in the community and be proud of who we are and the impact we have had on our province over the past 100 years.  We are unique; our brand is unique; our sport offers the opportunity to grow people in a very unique way and we need to be comfortable celebrating that.

What excites you about the future of Waikato rugby?

CM: The game is on the edge of a massive transition phase at the moment, and it is exciting to be part of.  We have acknowledged and confronted the challenges, which is an essential first step if we genuinely want to get better.  From here we need to be brave and open to the significant change that is required to address those challenges, and as a rugby organisation we are definitely up for it.  We might not get the changes right every time, but in most cases we will, and even if we don’t, the alternative is that we do nothing which is not an option in reality.

By Nigel Yalden


Read more below:

Tortuous route to forming Waikato Rugby Union
Women’s game goes from strength to strength


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