Talk of the Ranfurly Shield was banned in the Waikato team camp soon after the famous Log o' Wood was lifted in New Plymouth last Wednesday night.
That ban will be lifted today as Waikato prepare for their first and only shield defence of the year against Hawke's Bay in Hamilton on Saturday.
Waikato's slim chances of reaching the NPC Cup premiership semifinals disappeared altogether yesterday when Taranaki and Auckland, who were both four points above them on the table with a game in hand, picked up away victories against Southland and North Harbour respectively.
Technically, Hawke's Bay could still push Waikato into relegation to the championship division by lifting the shield with a bonus-point victory at Waikato Stadium on Saturday.
But in order to do that they would first have to win their Wednesday night home game against a formidable Canterbury team in Napier with a bonus point - and that seems highly unlikely.
Instead, Waikato's back-to-back bonus point victories on the road over Taranaki and Counties Manukau in the space of four days appear to have made them safe.
“It's funny what two games can do, isn't it,” Waikato head coach Chris Gibbes said after Saturday's comeback 32-28 bonus point victory over Counties Manukau in Pukekohe that followed the Ranfurly Shield win against Taranaki in New Plymouth.
Gibbes said they had been wary of the emotional letdown that often follows the elation of a Ranfurly Shield victory, particularly when the next match was not a shield defence.
“That was one of the things that we were really aware of and we didn't talk about the shield [in our buildup to the Counties match].
“On Wednesday night we put it to bed and now we've got this game out of the way we'll start talking about the shield on Monday.
“The key thing for us is that we haven't really changed anything. We just keep driving the consistent performances - that's what we're after.
“We know that if we continue to get the consistency we'll be there or thereabouts,” he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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