Ranfurly Shield moves into Canterbury's sights
It's been a taboo subject for the past seven days.
But the words "Ranfurly Shield" will be the most commonly used in the Canterbury rugby camp this week.
The famous Log of Wood, which Canterbury lost to Southland last year, has come very much back in favour following Canterbury's determined 20-12 victory against previously unbeaten Wellington at AMI Stadium on Saturday.
But the challenge against Taranaki in New Plymouth this weekend is another step-up again.
Like Wellington was, Taranaki is unbeaten and Canterbury are going to have to improve if they are to successfully challenge for New Zealand rugby's most prized gem for the 15th time since its inception 108 years ago.
"A shield challenge is a real highlight," Canterbury coach Tabai Matson said.
"And we are really lucky to get a crack at it. Some teams can go up to three years without getting a challenge, so our goal will be to make the most of the opportunity.
"It's not a game you have to get the guys up for though.
"They understand the importance of it and are already looking forward to it," Matson said.
Momentum can be a key factor in shield challenges, and while Taranaki will have plenty on the back of two strong defences, Canterbury too will head into the match in good form.
Defensively they were at their best so far this season on Saturday, which brought a wry smile from Matson who hasn't been happy with the patterns in Canterbury's earlier matches.
"The whole team stepped up around defence but they had to," he said.
"We knew Wellington had the firepower across the board and if we were going to have a bad day on defence, then we could have easily been in line for a flogging."
In tricky conditions with strong winds, Canterbury took control of the match with the wind at their back in the opening half but failed to capitalise on territory.
Luke Katene scored his first try at the elite level to open Canterbury's account for the day but a quick double to replacement wing Telusa Veainu halfway through the second half took the sting out of Wellington.
"We had hoped that the scoreboard was going to tick away a little bit more in the first half, and that the wind was going to die down," said Matson.
"But it was always going to be a bit of a grind and we struggled to get out of our 22 but, a bit like us in the first half, they struggled to capitalise on their territory and opportunities."
The Canterbury forward pack was inspired by a stand-out performance from its loose forward trio of George Whitelock, Matt Todd, who was particularly influential, and Nasi Manu who celebrated his 50th match for the province.
Fullback Tom Taylor again shone in the backline.
Corey Flynn had to be substituted minutes into his comeback match with a calf injury. Matson said the full extent of the injury wouldn't be revealed until today.
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