OPINION: The bean counters up at Taranaki Rugby headquarters will be counting the cost of saying goodbye to the Ranfurly Shield.
With an entire 2012 marketing campaign angled on "joining the defence", season ticket sales were up, crowds hovered around the 10,000-11,000 mark and the team had an image which was the envy of many provincial rivals.
At 7.34pm on Wednesday only one more defence was needed and the marketing department could start planning their slogans for next year.
Sadly, by 8.34pm it was all over, with Taranaki not only saying goodbye to the Shield but also to any real chance of hosting a home semifinal, an advantage that goes a long way in the NPC (unless you're from Canterbury).
So what will the long-term effect be of losing the Shield?
A pessimist will tell you season ticket sales will plummet, sponsors will not be as eager to support the union and the general public will no longer feel obligated to trudge out of home on a cold or wet night to Yarrow Stadium because the shield is not up for grabs.
On the evidence of the advice handed out to me as I trudged down the hill after the game, there are plenty who fit that category, the blokes partial to mixing beer and rugby who usually can't wait to put the knife in.
An optimist will say the Shield has invigorated many a sleepy supporter, who had long put away their hand-knitted amber-and-black scarves, and who actually ventured to the ground and rediscovered provincial rugby was still good value.
I saw plenty of parents and grandparents enjoying their time at the stadium with children and grandchildren, some who had given up going many a year ago.
If that is not a reflection of what an old piece of wood with its dented pieces of silver can achieve, then I'll start singing Mooloo ole ole ole.
No matter what your view on the current NPC format, the Shield still has an allure that is unrivalled.
It also deserves to be in places like Taranaki every now and then.
Taranaki Rugby did exceptionally well with its management of the Shield but they have to quickly dust off their disappointment and focus on getting their side back on the horse come Sunday.
If they are serious about wanting to move Taranaki in the right direction long-term, then it is vitally important they make the semifinals.
Otherwise it will be too easy for the New Zealand Rugby Union to brush off their continued claims of wanting to go to the next level of professional rugby if, as expected, the Super Rugby model changes in 2015.
It is going to be tough to win in Invercargill and doubly so in Wellington a week later but Taranaki have to go south with a positive attitude.
I would suggest they come out with a few different selections and look to use the ball.
Notwithstanding injuries, I would move Jarrad Hoeata into lock alongside Jason Eaton who will want to mark his 50th game with a win.
That would allow captain Craig Clarke and James Broadhurst to make a double impact.
Berny Hall should start at openside with a view to spreading the ball, Blade Thomson stays at No 8 and Kane Barrett turns out in the No 6 jersey.
Timo Tutavaha needs to come back at hooker and look to carry the ball, and I wouldn't be afraid to start Carl Carmichael and hope Michael Bent can back up.
Jamison Gibson-Park needs to start at halfback inside James Marshall, while Jayden Hayward will once again have to answer the call, despite having the heaviest workload of the squad.
Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has to resist the temptation to move Kurt Baker to centre, give Isaia Tuifua a crack and hope Jackson Ormond and Frazier Climo can last 80 minutes.
I hope Cooper and his assistant, Leo Crowley, are brave and give the side a licence to attack from anywhere because Southland will struggle.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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