Ranfurly Shield returns to the heartland of New Zealand

By: Blogger

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

It was fantastic to see the Ranfurly Shield return to where it truly belongs in the heartland of New Zealand, after Taranaki took the "Log of Wood" from Canterbury on Friday night.  

In 1901 the then Governor of New Zealand Lord Ranfurly, presented the Shield that bears his name to the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.

The Shield was presented to Auckland in 1902, who finished the season with an unbeaten record and was put on the line in 1904, when Wellington unsuccessfully challenged for the  provincial rugby prize. 

The advent of professional rugby competitions in the mid-1990’s saw the decline of the Ranfurly Shield in stature. 

In the last couple of decades, crowd support in the main centres has rapidly declined with little enthusiasm shown for the Ranfurly Shield.

However, in provincial New Zealand, the Ranfurly Shield still remains an important fabric of rugby in the provinces. 

The welcome extended to the Taranaki team as they arrived home, was reminiscent of the 1950's, 60’s and 70's, where the Ranfurly Shield victors were accorded super-star status.

Provinces that won the "Log of Wood" basked in the glory, with huge street parades often held on the morning of the Shield challenges. 

Over the years, this rugby correspondent has received a number of small treasures from mates, who have had books and programs languishing in cupboards gathering dust. 

One such treasure, is the Ranfurly Shield program of Canterbury verses Wairarapa on Saturday 2nd September 1950, at Lancaster Park in Christchurch.

Priced at just sixpence, the program delivers a snapshot of the time through the various program advertisements.  

The match-up was very much a David and Goliath contest.

The defending Shield holders had a current All Black in Bob Stuart and several other who would go on to wear the Black uniform of New Zealand. Notable Wairarapa players were 1949 All Black Ben Couch and Maori All Black Alby Blake. 

Fascinated by the big v small rugby union Shield challenge in the 1950 season,  I turned to another gem, in the Leopard (Brewery) History of the Ranfurly Shield published fifty years ago in 1967. 

It would be fair to say that few things in sport, especially rugby, surprise this life-long sports fan. However the publication compiled by New Zealand Rugby Historian Arthur C Swan, blew me away. Starting with Ranfurly Shield Match number 178, between then holders Otago and Canterbury – the Ranfurly Shield changed hands in all five Shield Challenges during 1950. 

Otago completed a 19 game winning streak defeating Southland 22-3 in the first challenge of 1950.

However, Canterbury relieved Otago of the Shield in the second 1950 challenge with an 8 nil victory, before Wairarapa won a 3 nil  arm-wrestle  with Canterbury to take the Shield back to the North Island. 

From there South Canterbury beat Wairarapa 17-14, with the Ranfurly Shield moving north again after North Auckland defeated South Canterbury 20-9, in the final challenge of the season. 

Taranaki will have little time to celebrate as they put the  Shield on the line against Manawatu this Wednesday night. Whatever the result, the Ranfurly Shield will spend the coming summer in provincial New Zealand. 

Go the Steamers!