It’s the most prestigious trophy in New Zealand domestic rugby.
Any time it’s on the line, round-robin provincial matches are elevated to Test match level.
There’s no doubt that the same will be the case this Friday, when Counties Manukau travel to Napier to challenge Hawkes Bay for the Ranfurly Shield, in what will be their first defense against a tier one team this year.
The question is: How will this affect the odds of Friday’s Bunnings NPC match?
Will Counties Manukau have an edge, with even more to play for against their old rivals? Or will Hawkes Bay storm home in front of a packed out crowd defending the Shield?
We take a look at what the bookmakers say, and how these two teams are shaping up against each other.
A Prize Steeped in New Zealand Rugby History
Typically, 14 teams competing in a tournament would be focused on winning the year-end title.
But pop into the Counties Manukau camp this week and ask any of the players what their aim is, and there’s a decent chance they’ll say winning New Zealand’s Log o’ Wood on Friday is more important than claiming the 2022 Bunnings NPC title later in the year.
That’s how powerful the history is behind this prestigious prize in New Zealand rugby.
With 118 years of legacy, the Ranfurly Shield is the definition of New Zealand provincial rugby, pre-dating even the National Provincial Championship by a good 70 years or so.
Operating on a challenge system similar to title belts in boxing, teams that hold the Ranfurly Shield are required to defend it in every round-robin home game they play. The beauty of this structure, is that any team can win the Ranfurly Shield, regardless of where they sit on the competition ladder at any given time.
That’s why every single team gets up for a Ranfurly Shield match—any challenge is an opportunity to make history.
The Ranfurly Shield Rivalry Between Counties Manukau and Hawkes Bay
Neither Counties Manukau nor Hawkes Bay have been historically dominant with the Ranfurly Shield, in the way that the likes of Auckland or Canterbury have been in the past.
However, there is a bitter rivalry between the two unions when it comes to the Shield.
In 2013, Counties Manukau claimed the Ranfurly Shield for the first time since its inception in 1902. The moment was the culmination of decades coming close, but falling short—several draws and close losses in the 1980s and 1990s had finally been avenged.
And the team which Counties Manukau stole the shield from in 2013? None other than Hawkes Bay. Adding salt to the wound, the 27-24 defeat gave Hawkes Bay an embarrassing record–that of the Ranfurly Shield’s shortest ever tenure, less than one week.
The Magpies were to have their revenge the next year, however, as after six successful defenses, Counties Manukau lost the shield back to Hawkes Bay in 2014.
After 11 defenses, Hawkes Bay lost the shield to Waikato, before winning it back again in 2020. A comprehensive 28-9 victory over Otago in October 2020 saw Hawkes Bay claim the shield, which they’ve held for 11 successful defenses again, across 2020-2022.
The question is, can Counties Manukau do it again, and end Hawkes Bay’s Ranfurly Shield streak for a second time on Friday?
How the Odds Are Impacted by the Ranfurly Shield
Bookmakers are not giving Counties Manukau much chance at all of stealing the Ranfurly Shield back this Friday.
Despite Counties Manukau coming into the match off the back of a good 23-22 home win over Otago, and Hawkes Bay having only managed a 32-all draw with Waikato last week, the odds show Hawkes Bay as strong favorites heading into this match.
Bookies have Hawkes Bay at -588 and Counties Manukau at +575. That’s implied odds of roughly 85% vs 15%–not very optimistic that the visitors will mount a decent Shield challenge.
These odds come off the back of Hawkes Bay’s eleven game streak defending the Shield at home, as well as the current form of these teams. Though last week provided a better result for Counties Manukau, prior to that, their 2021 records were polar opposites—Hawkes Bay eight wins from seven, Counties Manukau winless.
But here’s the thing with Ranfurly Shield rugby: Past form and the odds don’t matter. All that matters is the 80 minutes on the field this Friday.
That’s what Counties Manukau will be focusing on.
They did it eight years ago, and will believe they can do it again this weekend.