"Where did that come from?"
It was a question we were all asking ourselves as we sat in wonder at the sudden quality of Waikato's performance on an early October midweek night in New Plymouth.
Waikato have now won the Ranfurly Shield nine times - I have been witness to six of them - and certainly this time produced the sort of rugby that was synonymous with some of a proud province's finest moments in its playing history.
But it certainly hadn't shown itself in any sustained period of play previously that season and we were eight games in with hope of a semifinal spot pretty much gone after a win-one, lose-two pattern.
But somehow, during a week of preparing for what for all but one of Waikato's players was a career-first Ranfurly Shield challenge, and listening to some sage advice from some of the Mooloos' favourite sons who had experienced Shield success in the past, a switch was flicked.
A very different Waikato side hit the ground running at Yarrow Stadium, when everything seemed to align at the right time and they finally took the attack to the opposition with a vengeance.
Taranaki had taken the coveted Log o' Wood off Southland and then defended it once at the end of the 2011 season before going on a six-match winning run of defences last year. Only four days earlier the Ferdinands had thumped Manawatu 59-18 and the mood was buoyant in "Ranfurly Shield country".
A crowd of over 10,500 turned up on a Wednesday night, confident an out-of-form Waikato side posed little threat, and were quickly silenced by the opening siege from the Mooloos that led to a try to hooker Marcel Cummings-Toone within two minutes of kickoff.
It seemed almost too easy - a soft pick-and-go breach of the defence near the line - and the crowd expected their boys in amber and black to quickly strike back.
They did so, but only through the boot of goal-kicking winger Frazier Climo, and his eighth minute penalty goal was Taranaki's only contribution to the scoreboard before halftime with Waikato going into their changing room 27-3 ahead.
Waikato got out to 39-3 and had the shield wrapped up just nine minutes into the second half before the holders finally woke up and started taking some attack to their challengers.
But it brought only one try for the losers and when Waikato winger Tim Mikkelson intercepted a pass from a desperate counter-attack attempt and scored his third touchdown the final scoreboard read 46-10.
Waikato skipper Alex Bradley was so elated at his side's performance that at the presentation ceremony he whipped the prized trophy off the table and claimed it for his team before losing skipper Craig Clarke had a chance to make the traditional handover.
The performance was inspirational for players and fans alike and when three days later a second-string line-up was sent to Pukekohe to take on championship division high flyers Counties Manukau (the bulk of the team was rested), they played with similar confidence to come from behind and win 32-28.
That enabled a freshened first-choice side to finish the season in style, defending the Ranfurly Shield against Hawke's Bay 28-3 to ensure the "Log" stayed in Mooloo country for the summer. It has been doing the rounds within the province ever since.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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