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The Tasman Makos are preparing for their biggest game of the season with a Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki in New Plymouth this Saturday.
It is only the second time in the Makos’ short history that they have challenged for the Ranfurly Shield after narrowly losing 26-20 to Wellington in 2008.
It will be new territory for many of the players but they are in good hands with both coaches Kieran Keane and Leon MacDonald having played for Canterbury teams that won, defended and then lost the Shield.
Leon, who was part of the Canterbury Ranfurly Shield eras of 2000 to 2003 and 2004 to 2006 and played 56 tests for the All Blacks, talked to The Leader about the magic of the Shield.
What do you remember about your Ranfurly Shield games with Canterbury?
I was playing for the All Blacks at the time so I wasn’t involved in complete campaigns but the Shield was always very special. They were always fiercely-competitive games and you just don’t want to give it up. You don’t want to be part of a team that loses the Shield. Ranfurly Shield rugby is very unique and you’re always proud to be part of its history.
So the fear of losing was a big motivational factor?
Yes. I played in a game when we lost it to North Harbour in 2006. That was one of the low points of my career. We didn’t turn up on that day and they were up for the game. It wasn’t nice.
What was your most memorable Shield game?
They are all such big games that they are all special but the one I remember as the most exciting was against Wellington. I didn’t play and was sitting in the stand because I was injured but it was a great game. Ben Blair scored a try right on fulltime to win the game for us. I remember that game because of the pressure and intensity when we had to come from behind to win.
What makes the Ranfurly Shield so special?
It’s unique and has a lot of history. I’m from Marlborough and they still talk about the side that won the Shield in 1973. People remember the occasion and what they were doing on the day when Marlborough won. The players in that team are still highly regarded in the community and are very special people in the history of the region. The Shield is such a unique part of New Zealand rugby history.
Do you think the Ranfurly Shield had lost some of its lustre with the advent of the NPC and Super rugby?
No. You only need to talk to our players and see how excited they are about the challenge to see what it means. Tasman has only had one challenge in their history so it’s not often that these opportunities come around so it’s still very big. It is often the highlight of many players’ careers. You are very lucky if you do get a chance to play in a challenge and even luckier if you get the chance to defend it.
What are you and Kieran doing to prepare the players?
We have to make sure the players have the right mindset. The key is making sure they are confident and have the belief that they can win the Shield. The win against Canterbury on Friday has helped a lot. The players also need to have a real go at it – you have to win the Shield – you can’t hold anything back. Taranaki aren’t going to let it go without a fight. There will be also be a big crowd there and there will be so much on the line.
On a scale of one to 10, where one is a senior club game and 10 is a test match, where do Ranfurly Shield games sit?
It will be played with the same intensity as a big Super 15 game so the pressure leading up to kickoff will be intense. It will give these guys an insight into what it’s like playing a test match. All the ITM Cup games are important but I’d say if last Friday’s game against Canterbury was a six, the Shield challenge will be seven or eight. Last Friday we were playing for four or five competition points. The stakes will be a lot higher on Saturday.
Are you and Kieran talking about it much?
Yes, every day at the moment. We are just trying to ensure our guys are really well prepared and are really clear about what they have to do and make sure we get it right.
Do you have any idea of what the score will be?
It will depend on the weather. They like to use the ball and we do too, so the score will be quite high, so I’d say 28-27 to us.