Waikato must attack to take Ranfurly Shield
Waikato are outsiders to take the shield, reports Evan Pegden.
There is no secret when it comes to successful Ranfurly Shield challenges, according to Waikato assistant coach Scott McLeod.
It is all about 80 minutes of attack - both with and without the ball.
That is the message McLeod and some of his former Waikato team-mates, who also tasted shield success in the red, yellow and black, have delivered to a team with almost no previous experience in challenging for the Log o' Wood but who take on Taranaki for it in New Plymouth tonight.
Former All Black McLeod was second five-eighth in the Waikato team that lifted the Ranfurly Shield in both 1996 (off Taranaki) and 1997 (off Auckland).
Since then Waikato's most recent Shield success was in 2007 when they took it off North Harbour.
But McLeod got former Shield winning skipper Steve Gordon to talk to the team about what it is all about and also consulted another of his former team-mates, Matthew Cooper.
"All the opinions are the same - you cannot afford to wait," said McLeod. "You've got to attack the whole time, whether you've got the ball or you haven't.
"Those moments when you wait you miss opportunities. That's the key and you've got to get your head around that and all be on the same page.
"Some things have changed in rugby but the nature of shield challenges never changes."
So do rank outsiders Waikato - $2.90 at the TAB - stand a chance against a Taranaki team, who get to tuck the Shield away for another year if they win tonight?
They do not have the same seasoned pros the 1996 team had, such as Gordon, Cooper, Duane Monkley, Ian Foster and Wayne Warlow, whom McLeod described as "relentless" in their pursuit of victory through constant attacking pressure that inspired the young players in the team to share in the taking of the few scoring opportunities that arose.
Shield history is littered with such upsets and Waikato teams have contributed handsomely to that in the past, but the 2012 team will have to lift considerably and find the 80-minute consistency they have lacked so far in winning just three of their seven matches.
Win the Shield and a poor season turns into a memorable one, and at the same time some valuable competition points would move Waikato out of relegation danger and keep a faint semifinal hope alive.
"We're a very proud union in terms of Ranfurly Shield history, results haven't gone our way this year so there would be a lot of people extremely proud and happy to bring the shield back to Hamilton."
Waikato get a number of players back for tonight's challenge with fullback Trent Renata, halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow and forwards Matt Vant Leven, Romana Graham, Marcel Cummings-Toone and Toby Smith returning from varying lengths of time out of the starting XV as the result of injuries.
Sam Christie comes in for in-form first-five Piers Francis, who hurt his ankle last week against Tasman and was unable to train at the start of the week, but has been included on the reserve bench.
"We haven't really had a choice but it's specially good timing, as it's turned out, and most of them haven't had shield challenges and are especially motivated to get back and play this game," McLeod said.