OPINION: Last Saturday, as Taranaki prepared to face Manawatu's challenge for the Ranfurly Shield, TRFU director Basil Chamberlain welcomed invited guests in a lounge above the TSB Stand.
During his address he touched briefly on a point of concern involving provincial rugby's greatest prize and whether it was valued as much by the rugby bosses who run the sport and organise the rep programmes as it is by the unions and players who must adhere to their overseers' direction.
He pointed out that if Taranaki successfully defended the shield against Manawatu that day, it would have to front up again, with the Log o' Wood on the line, against the might of Waikato just four days later.
And he also highlighted that should Manawatu prevail, it would have to put the shield on the line against Otago in a Tuesday night game. Just three days later.
That called into question whether there is sufficient respect being shown for such a prestigious aspect of New Zealand rugby in the current helter-skelter programme of televised sport and incredibly quick turnarounds. A point acknowledged by a sombre nodding of heads, including the guests from Manawatu.
It's a question that surfaced again yesterday, with the impact of a marauding Mooloo tight-five.
Waikato had claimed the shield with a performance of such ferocity and precision that it's unlikely any team in the NPC could have withstood the brutal efficacy of its ambition and output. And it's doubtful that the inclusion of Taranaki stars Beauden Barrett and Scott Waldrom would have made much of a difference.
But that only highlights further and confirms the concern behind what Basil Chamberlain was saying, and what it means for any future planning of provincial rugby competitions.
Any team planning a shield tilt will mark that date on the calendar and then, over many weeks and months, train, focus and peak for that one shot.
The defender is expected to do that a number of times during a season, to prepare for a clash that is many times more physically ferocious and mentally draining than a standard ITM Cup clash.
They will encounter players who regard shield clashes as highlights in their rugby careers, high points in their lives, and who will throw everything they have into the opposition and the cause.
It was clear from Taranaki's defences against Tasman, Hawke's Bay, Canterbury and Manawatu just how much the shield means to those who don't have it. And who want it so badly.
Even against Manawatu, which ended in a Waikato-esque rout, players were physically and mentally spent. But still, Taranaki was expected to get up again in four days for another herculean challenge.
We say Mr Chamberlain is right. As are TRFU chief executive Neil Pennington and chairman Lindsay Thomson, who have called the current format "unsustainable". And if that format is so wrong and unworkable, then its impact on the shield is clearly wrong and grossly unfair.
Whether you are Taranaki or Tasman, Waikato or Wellington.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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