OPINION: The rest of the country expect it, the Canterbury players will believe it, so it's up to us, collectively as a province, to stop them taking the Ranfurly Shield south.
Tuning in to Radio Sport after Canterbury's reasonably impressive 20-12 win over Wellington, you'd be forgiven for thinking Saturday's Shield match is a forgone conclusion.
Part-time host Lee Radovanovich got the ball rolling when he found out Canterbury were the next challengers.
"I'm a bit disappointed about that because I like it when the smaller unions have the Ranfurly Shield," he said. "It means more to them and Canterbury will get up and hold it for the rest of the season."
There were no reasons to back up why he came to that conclusion, so I could only guess Radovanovich, like most of the country, just presume that because it's Canterbury playing, they will win.
Mind you, this is the same commentator who only minutes before asked: "Does the ITM Cup mean anything anymore?"
I mean, Auckland's inhabitants [Radovanovich is one] have become so insular in their views, they just presume the the NPC does not hold much attraction because bugger all people turn up to Eden Park.
They should realise that the NPC does mean a bit to people outside the main centres because it's the only consistent first-class rugby we get.
Canterbury can rightfully be arrogant in their approach to the Shield challenge - they've earned that right. Four-time defending NPC champions with a fabulous Shield history, they set the benchmark.
That doesn't stop a fair number of us disliking them, however.
When I think about the Shield and Canterbury, my mind rushes back to the Southland Supporter's Club on August 24, 2011 and some poignant words from Stags skipper Jamie Mackintosh.
"It feels a bloody lot better handing it over to Weka [Taranaki captain Craig Clarke] than it did to [Canterbury's] Andy Ellis, I'll give you the bloody tip," he told the audience.
I'm sure Clarke feels the same way, but hopefully he won't be confronted with the scenario.
There is no reason Taranaki can't beat Canterbury, providing a few things happen.
No 1 was going to be the return of inspirational pivot Beauden Barrett. Unfortunately, Dan Carter's reluctance to harden up means Barrett will be in Dunedin preparing to face the Springboks and not at Yarrow Stadium fending off the pesky challengers [what team did Carter used to play for?].
It's the not the end of Taranaki's hopes, though.
As the rest of the country has conveniently forgotten to mention it, I will. Taranaki are the only unbeaten side in the entire NPC - that's in both divisions.
They are also starting to peak at just the right time, have the most experienced [and probably the best] coach in the competition, have the finest captain and, most importantly, they have a venue that can be pretty intimidating for visiting teams.
While I don't blame anyone for not turning up to Friday night's match against Hawke's Bay, given the weather was really dodgy and the scheduling was crap from the New Zealand Rugby Union, there can surely be no excuses this week.
Saturday afternoon is a perfect time for such an important fixture, the two best teams in the NPC will be battling it out for New Zealand rugby's greatest prize and if you buy your tickets early enough, it's not that expensive.
Canterbury also have enough weaknesses and inexperience in some positions to be beaten.
Now Taranaki just has to go out and find them. That will ensure a great weekend for everyone in a place where the NPC and the Shield do still mean something.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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