Shield schedule in limbo until NPC confirmation

EVAN PEGDEN
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012

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Waikato now know who two more of their Ranfurly Shield defences will be against next year but can't set a schedule until they know when next year's national provincial championship starts.

Yesterday's process at New Zealand Rugby Union headquarters in Wellington to decide who played who and where in the NPC crossover matches between the premiership and championship divisions delivered shield challenges from championship teams Northland and Otago - neither of which Waikato had a say in.

The Northland home game came from the second selection round where Waikato was supposed to choose but by the fifth pick was left with no choice but Northland due to logistics, while Otago chose Waikato in the third selection round.

They are added to the home games against premiership teams Auckland, Wellington and Taranaki that come as a matter of course after Waikato played them away this year.

But before the NPC starts Waikato have to defend the shield, which has just been refurbished and room made for extra engraved badges, against at least two Heartland Championship teams.

One of those will be East Coast, as winners of the Meads Cup this year, and the Waikato Rugby Union is seriously considering a request to play that away from home in Ruatoria.

Three challenges have been received for the other match - from King Country, Thames Valley and Horowhenua-Kapiti.

But if the NPC start date remains similar to what it was this year, three weeks after the finish of the Waikato club championship, WRU chief executive Graham Bowen said the union would consider accommodating an eighth challenge.

The WRU is supposed to sort out its defences and supply those and dates of the pre-competition shield games to the NZRU by November 18.

But it has asked that deadline be extended until it knows the start date of the NPC, the format of which has still not yet been confirmed for 2013.

"If we had a big enough window we might contemplate a third [defence against a Heartland team], just to try and help one of our neighbours," he said.

"But we don't want to mess up our club structure either so it's going to be tight.

"At the moment there's an option that we start a week earlier with the ITM Cup and some of the clubs are wanting to end a week later with the club competition which would just be a terrible combination."

Yesterday's crossover selections saw Waikato also secure away matches against championship teams Tasman (automatic - fifth v 10th) and Southland (Southland's choice).

After not leaving the North Island this year, Waikato will next season play three matches in the South Island against Canterbury, Tasman and Southland.

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Waikato head coach Chris Gibbes said in the end his union did not get much choice in yesterday's selections.

"But that's what happens when you only finish fifth," Gibbes said.

He said the Ranfurly Shield defences were always going to be tough no matter who the opponents were.

"At the end of the day at least we know who we're are playing now and we'll just wait for the draw to see in what order we play them."

evan.pegden@waikatotimes.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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