Jackson Willison admits he took the Ranfurly Shield for granted the last time Waikato won it back in 2007.
The young midfield back was only 18 and did not fully appreciate just what the famous log o' wood meant in Waikato's proud rugby history.
But as the only current Waikato player who had tasted a successful shield challenge prior to last Wednesday night when the Mooloos lifted it off Taranaki and as the only one with previous experience of defending it, he takes a very different mindset into Saturday's season-ending shield defence against Hawke's Bay.
"I think back to 07 and I kind of took it for granted," said Willison. "I was the youngest in the team at the time."
The whole Waikato squad were taught about Waikato's shield history by past players last week and having experienced his second successful Ranfurly Shield challenge as a result Willison does not want to experience a repeat of 2007 when Waikato failed to hang on in their first defence the following week against Canterbury.
"This time around we want to hold it for the summer and we don't want to let anyone else get their hands on it so this weekend is huge for the whole region."
Five years ago Waikato had quite an experienced team under the coaching of Warren Gatland and Willison said the shield challenge had brought the best out in them, just as it had for this year's team a week ago.
But they learnt a lesson when it came to defending it a week later.
"I think when it comes to defending it you've got to go out and win it again. We came up against a good Canterbury team that day and we probably held back a bit.
"But this week we are actually looking to win it again. You've got to take an attacking mindset into the game, because if we go out there on Saturday and try and defend it I don't think we're going to get very far."
Willison said the danger for Waikato was subconsciously taking Hawke's Bay lightly, just as Taranaki may well have done against them last week.
"We know they're going to bring a bit of passion.
"It's their last game as well and they're in a relegation battle so there's no illusions that Saturday's going to be easy. We need to front up."
Willison is one of a number of players who sat out last Saturday's ITM Cup premiership away win over Counties-Manukau, which was achieved with a virtual second-string side.
A heel injury prevented him from running and meant he couldn't play at Pukekohe but he ran for the first time on it yesterday and said the foot felt good. He was one of nine starters from the Taranaki match who saw no action against the Steelers.
Most players were able to train yesterday, although some like skipper Alex Bradley were on light duties and loosehead prop Toby Smith was a spectator as he took another couple of days to get his ankle right.
Waikato assistant coach Scott McLeod, a veteran of successful shield campaigns as a player, is right behind the attacking approach for this Saturday's defence.
"We're going out there to win it. We need exactly the same mindset as we took into the Taranaki game," McLeod said.
"It's half theirs and it's half ours at the moment. We've got to attack, because if you sit back and wait or go into defensive mode when you think you've got something to defend you just get eaten up and you're gone."
Many people have asked where last week's performance came from and why it hadn't come earlier in the season to give Waikato a crack at the premiership title, but it seems it took the extra emotional lift of a shield challenge for the game the coaches had been seeking all season to click into place.
"I think all of the players put in the mental preparation they needed to and they played to our plan," McLeod said. "Everyone did their job."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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