Mid Canterbury seek respect in challenge
Mid Canterbury are determined to prove they can can foot it with the ''big boys'' of New Zealand rugby in tonight's Ranfurly Shield challenge against Counties Manukau.
Last year's Meads Cup Heartland champions will contest the log o' wood for the first time in 12 years when they take the field in Pukekohe.
Mid Canterbury will start as massive underdogs against a Counties side, who finished fourth in the premiership last season. Counties demolished Thames Valley 68-0 in their first Ranfurly Shield defence of the season last Wednesday, scoring 10 tries in the rout.
Mid Canterbury No th8 and captain Jon Dampney ntsT nte said his side wanted to show the gulf between the top of the Heartland Championship and the national provincial championship was not as huge as some believed.
''We've definitely got a lot of motivation. We've got all the people back home and we want to do our union proud and ourselves,'' Dampney said.
''We want to show the big boys, 'Hey, don't forget about us'.''
Mid Canterbury have nine members of last year's victorious Meads Cup side in their starting 15 tonight, which Dampney hoped would hold them in good stead.
First-five Murray Williams, who previously played international rugby for Japan and was a standout for Mid Canterbury last season, will be an instrumental figure.
Williams is just one of two members of the Mid Canterbury team to have played in a shield challenge. Hooker Jon Sharpe featured off the bench in the Hammers' last shield appearance against Canterbury in 2002, which they lost 78-10.
The red-and-black line up that day included seven past or present All Blacks, with Dan Carter starting at second five-eighth.
Mid Canterbury have never claimed the Ranfurly Shield in 12 previous attempts.
They have been dealt a blow on the eve of this clash with former Northland prop Scott Vessey a late scratching due to a back injury.
The Mid Canterbury squad had been training every Wednesday for the past two months and Dampney said they felt as ready as they could be. Last week, they warmed up for the game with a 38-6 win over Ellesmere.
Dampney, who debuted for the team in 2004 and was last year's Heartland player of the year, said it was crucial Mid Canterbury started strongly and did not allow Counties easy metres on attack early on.
''They've got some big powerful boys. Their No 8 [Maama Vaipulu] is a big powerful man. They've got a couple of exciting young backs. I dare say they'll try and use them as much as they can.''
Captaining Mid Canterbury in a shield game was an achievement Dampney would look back on fondly at the end of his career.
''It's a massive honour to lead the boys out in a game like this. We've got to put our best foot forward and hopefully all that training pays off.''
Kickoff is at 6pm.