Counties' Shield celebrations hit a high
Hundreds lined the streets of South Auckland this afternoon to catch a glimpse of their heroes, the Counties Manukau Steelers.
The newly crowned Ranfurly Shield winners spent the morning in central Manukau before parading through Papakura at lunchtime and heading to Pukekohe for the final celebration.
South Auckland is now "shield country" for the first time in the union's 58-year history.
"Five years ago they laughed at heartland rugby. Now we are the shield holders," said rugby personality Phil Kingsley Jones, speaking to the big crowd gathered in the Pukekohe town square.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown celebrated the union's long history and their new coach, former All Black captain Tana Umaga.
"Tana, you are the bomb!" Brown told the crowd.
All the near misses and the great former Counties players were inspiration for the team when they travelled to Hawke's Bay last week, Umaga said.
"Some people have cried on my shoulder today," Umaga said.
Pukekohe man Bevan Andrews, 43, had been waiting his whole life for the shield to come to Counties.
"It's massive. We've never had it. I've been to games as a kid where we had draws and one, two-point losses. It was heart breaking," he said.
The history of the Ranfurly Shield was important even to the youngest Counties fans.
"The shield still matters, it's a Kiwi icon," said Niko Manning, 12.
He was confident that the Steelers would not be the third team in a row to surrender the shield after just a week when they play Taranaki on Sunday.
"I reckon they can [do it]," said Manning, who will be at the weekend's game.
Earlier in the parade, Papakura's Louis Thomsen said it "means a lot to me" to see Counties hold the shield, which they won in their Saturday game against Hawke's Bay at McLean Park in Napier.
He was on crutches but didn't let that stop him and son Bernard, 9, from seeing the parade.
This is the first time the team has held the log o' wood in its 58-year history.
"I've been supporting Counties right from day one so now it's good to have the shield come over this way. It's good for the supporters too."
He said he didn't expect to see it happen but it's "awesome".
He hoped his son would be inspired to play for Counties some day.
He was particularly impressed at Tana Umaga's coaching of the team and reckoned they could retain the title if they "just keep playing the way they've been playing".
Umaga told gathered supporters the Steelers couldn't have done it without them.
He asked for their support in the weekend's game against Taranaki to retain the shield "so you can bask in its glory".
- © Fairfax NZ News