If you are searching for someone who displays the emotion and sheer joy the Ranfurly Shield can bring out in a player, then look no further than Taranaki centre Willie Rickards.
The 28-year-old is an embracer who just loves bringing out the hugs.
"I scored my first try in 17 games for Taranaki on Saturday, so the boys have been giving me a bit of stick about that," he said after training yesterday.
"Because I don't score too many tries, I try and get involved in the celebrations anyway, so the boys see me coming from 20 metres away."
His hugs have become a thing of folklore in the Taranaki changing room and Rickards reckons the opposition take note as well.
"It's all about body language because I think it shows you are pumped up, you are confident and when other teams see what energy we have, it can become a bit intimidating," he said.
This season has been a watershed for Rickards, who has been dogged with injury and illness since shifting from Southland at the end of 2008.
That has been reflected in the number of games he has played, or not played, during that time, with more than half of his appearances coming this season.
The sheer number of problems he has had to overcome means he has almost settled on this year being his last in a Taranaki jersey.
Given that, the former national sevens representative will not lack for motivation tonight as he has a chance to help keep the Shield in Taranaki for an entire season, something that has not happened since 1964.
Taranaki's fifth Shield tenure has also been extra special for Rickards who is the only squad member to have started in every one of their seven defences to date.
"I need to be honest - I don't have half the talent of guys like Waisake [Naholo] or Kurt [Baker] so playing in every Shield game, that's a real honour for me."
Rickards was well aware of the threat posed by Waikato, especially if they clicked as a unit after a season of largely lacklustre performances.
"The analysis we have done on them showed us they have been very unlucky in some of their games because if you look at some of their players, they've got some real rock stars there," he said. "Sooner or later, they are going to gel. I know it's getting near the end of the competition but we're convinced they will gel and can put a side away."
He was hoping, obviously, that would not be tonight when he came up against one of Waikato's form players, centre Save Tokula.
"Hopefully, where we have it, I think, will be in the forwards. If they can really put in a good performance, then hopefully we can come away with a good outcome."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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