Canterbury not afraid of history ahead of second Shield defence in six days
Canterbury fans can count on one hand how many times their team has lost since the 2015 season kicked off.
Three losses is all they've had to stomach, and the most recent one has been dug up by the coaching staff ahead of their Ranfurly Shield defence against Counties Manukau in Christchurch on Wednesday night.
Counties knocked over Canterbury in Pukekohe in the final regular season match last year, before the reigning champions bounced back to beat them 22-7 in their home semifinal a week later.
"I watched that game last year, and then I watched what we did to recover that in the semi," Canterbury coach Glenn Delaney said at his team's captain's run at AMI Stadium on Tuesday.
He would have seen Counties repeatedly carve open the then Scott Robertson coached red and blacks to win 33-21, only for Canterbury to put in a brutal defensive display and avenge the loss in their sudden-death rematch.
The Steelers are the second team set to take a swipe at the Log o' Wood in the space of six days, although the most recent (Southland) was left bewildered after copping an humiliating 78-20 loss last Friday.
Delaney has made five changes to his starting team which blitzed the Stags, including bringing back rested Highlanders midfielder Rob Thompson for Inga Finau, and powerful wing Poasa Waqanibau for Marshall Suckling.
Loose forwards Tom Sanders and Billy Harmon replace Reed Prinsep and Jed Brown, while Crusaders prop Oli Jager shifts from the pine into the starting lineup for Siate Tokolahi.
Recovery has been the focus between Shield defences, particularly with another quick turnaround looming ahead of Sunday's game against championship frontrunners Wellington in the capital.
"We've had a really massive couple of days as a coaching group, while taking all the running load off the players. There's been lots of mental work going on, but hopefully we're in good enough shape for [Wednesday night]," Delaney said.
"I've seen the threats that Counties pose, watched them pretty close. You look at some of the experience they have. They've got guys who have been in big games, they've got a guy [Stephen Donald] who won a World Cup off a fishing boat."
Almost four years to the day since Counties won the Shield for the first - and only - time in history, coach Darryl Suasua has named a powerful side which includes Blues halfback Augustine Pulu and lock Jimmy Tupou.
Last in the premiership with a 1-3 record, Suasua has taken the approach of not using the Shield as motivation this week.
"We've not even talked about the Shield. We need competition points. We have to earn the right to stay in this competition and to wear the jersey," he said.
That's quite the contrast to Delaney, who has reiterated all season how important the Shield is to the province, and how his team must be prepared to dig deep to ensure their 15th tenure continues.
"I go back 25 years and see what was working back then," Delaney said.
"This province has got huge history. I got inspired by the '82 Shield reign, when Grizz [Alex Wyllie] had it and they had it until '85, when Auckland came in and had a massive game at Lancaster Park and they snuck it at the death.
"We look back at the history of Canterbury Rugby and it's not something that we're worried about and frightened of, it's inspiring us. Because ultimately we're a part of that and we want to contribute to it."
Should Canterbury, bonus-point winners in their first four games this season, shoot down Counties' challenge, they'll still need to see off Waikato and Taranaki to lock it up for the summer.
"We've prepared diligently [for Counties], paid them a lot of respect, and what we have to do is come up with good offensive and defensive plans to unlock them and make sure we're moving forwards ourselves," Delaney said.
AT A GLANCE
Canterbury: George Bridge, Poasa Waqanibau, Tim Bateman, Rob Thompson, Braydon Ennor, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Luke Whitelock (c), Billy Harmon, Tom Sanders, Dominic Bird, Mitchell Dunshea, Oli Jager, Nathan Vella, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Nick Werahiko, Chris Gawler, Siate Tokolahi, Hamish Dalzell, Reed Prinsep, Ere Enari, Brett Cameron, Josh McKay.
Counties Manukau: Luteru Laulala, Nigel Ah Wong, Tim Nanai-Williams, Stephen Donald, Albert Nikoro, Baden Kerr, Augustine Pulu (cc), Sam Henwood, Jonathan Kawau, Ronald Raaymakers, Jimmy Tupou (cc), Viliame Rarasea, Kalolo Tuiloma, Gafatasi Su'a, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Joe Royal, Sean Bagshaw, Coree Te Whata-Colley, Leroy Jack, Fotu Lokotui, Jonathan Taumateine, Orbyn Leger, Sam Furniss.
Where: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
When: Wednesday, 7.35pm
Referee: Brendon Pickerill