Shield brings fans out
The Ranfurly Shield is delivering - big time. A crowd even larger than the 12,000 that watched the Counties Manukau Steelers repel first challengers Taranaki on Sunday at ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe is now expected for defence against Waikato on Saturday.
Not since the years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, a time when Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri reigned on the wings, has the stadium at Pukekohe seen anything this big.
Counties Manukau chief executive Andrew Maddock wasn't all that surprised by Sunday's crowd. He expected no less after the shield pulled thousands onto the streets from Manukau to Pukekohe last week.
But he was nevertheless taken by the support and expecting more for the next challenge.
"We were ecstatic. It was so well supported by our community. We're anticipating probably even better for the Waikato game," he says.
The Steelers' successful first defence was as historic as it was emphatic. Taranaki had no answers as the Steelers rampaged to a six-try 44-7 victory.
It was a but a teaser for the challenge from Waikato who showed a return to form with a 42-24 win over Auckland.
The Steelers showed no ill-effects of the arduous week of promotional duties that come with the Ranfurly Shield and their coach Tana Umaga being put on the mat by the New Zealand Rugby Union for abusing referee Glen Jackson at Eden Park after the 22-20 loss to Auckland on September 4.
Umaga was given a suspended two-match ban and an official reprimand for insulting comments made to Jackson.
"I value my role as a coach and a leader and have learned from this situation," Umaga says.
"It is important that I learn quickly from my mistakes to improve and develop as a coach."
The Counties Manukau Heat narrowly missed winning the JJ Stewart Trophy, the women's equivalent of the Ranfurly Shield. The holders the Auckland Storm beat Counties Manukau 18-12 at Western Springs Stadium on Saturday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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