Taranaki primed for shot at Ranfurly Shield

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No one in Christchurch will be taking a challenge from Taranaki for the Shield lightly. And the frustration for the holders is that there will be a lack of support due to Covid-19 restrictions.

 

But for Canterbury to cash in on their tenure, especially in the cash-strapped times of 2020, it will be crucial they get past Taranaki.

 

The future challengers are potentially lucrative games against Wellington, (October 3), Waikato (October 18), Otago (October 30) and Auckland (November 13).

 

Taranaki was the last side to take the Shield from Canterbury. Their 2017 clash was a scarcely believable scoring extravaganza with the amber and blacks coming back from 7-31 down to take a 55-43 win, the greatest comeback in the trophy's history.

Already a province with a proud Ranfurly Shield history, Taranaki had plenty of reason to go into that 2017 contest with high hopes.

 

They had pushed Canterbury close several times in the preceding seasons. In 2016 Canterbury won 39-34 in New Plymouth.

 

In 2015, in the first of two games they played, Taranaki took a 24-21 win home from Christchurch.

 

And in 2014 Canterbury had a 26-23 win in New Plymouth.

 

Taranaki sides know how to get under Canterbury's skin.

 

But if there is one team in the country that knows how to hold onto the Shield it is Canterbury. With a win in August against North Otago (71-7), it is closing in on Auckland's 158 Shield wins, a total bolstered by its 61-game tenure between 1985-1993. Canterbury has 152 wins.

 

Canterbury is also the side that has been most successful in challenges, winning 16 times, once more than Auckland while Taranaki has been successful in six challenges.

 

While Canterbury played the second challenge for the Shield, against Wellington in 1904, it had to wait until the end of the 1927 season before it got its hands on the trophy when beating Manawhenua. It defended the Shield once and then lost it to Wairarapa.

 

Taranaki's first challenge was against Auckland in 1906 but, in September 1913 it beat Auckland before defending it six times in 1914 before losing to Wellington.

 

It then had to wait until 1957 when it beat Otago to claim the Shield. It held it through nine challenges in 1958 and four more in 1959 before losing it to Southland.

 

Taranaki then relieved Wellington of the Shield it had won from Auckland seven days earlier in 1963 to begin a 15-challenge sequence before Auckland relieved it of the prize in 1965.

 

Canterbury has had many more tenures, notably its best of 25 defences between 1982-85 and 23 defences between 1953-56 and 2000-03.

 

Canterbury and Taranaki didn't meet in 2019 and on the last occasion they met, Canterbury extracted a form of revenge when completing a 41-7 win.

 

What makes Saturday's challenge all the more appealing is the prospect of yet another clash between the best first five-eighths in the country Richie Mo'unga for the defenders and Beauden Barrett for the challengers.

 

The key for either player to be influential is the quality of ball they receive from their forwards, and both packs are fit to rank among the best in the country.

 

So too will be the contest between fullbacks Jordie Barrett for Taranaki and Josh McKay for the home team.

 

The battle in the loose between Reed Prinsep, Cullen Grace, Billy Harmon and possibly Tom McLeod for Canterbury and Lachlan Boshier and Mitchell Crosswell for Taranaki will be another key.

 

Rising lock Tupou Vaa'i will face a tough battle against veteran All Black Sam Whitelock while Canterbury has an impressive front row with All Blacks Joe Moody and Codie Taylor while Taranaki can call on Ben May, Reuben O'Neill and Ricky Riccitelli.