While no one is more disappointed in the Ranfurly Shield’s loss to North Harbour than the coaching staff and players, it is important at this juncture to take the time to reflect on what has been another successful era for the province.

Canterbury’s tenth reign as shield holder was significant for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that, in successfully repulsing 14 challengers, the side fashioned the fifth longest winning run of any shield holding team representing the province.

In falling in its 15th defence, Rob Penney’s side finished just one game short of tying the record of the second Canterbury side to hold the shield, from 1931-34, which saw off 15 challengers before finally surrendering the trophy to Hawke’s Bay.

Canterbury’s latest shield era began in September 2004 when the then Aussie McLean-coached side ended Bay of Plenty’s fairytale; three weeks after the Steamers had annexed the trophy for the first time in the union’s 93-year history by eclipsing Auckland 33-28.

The Bay, coached by future Crusaders Super 12 and Super 14 winning assistant coach Vern Cotter, didn’t give up their possession without a stern fight, eventually being subdued 33-26 after a stern contest in front of an enthralled Mt Maunganui crowd.

Capturing the shield represented the first leg of a golden double for the McLean-prepared and Richard McCaw-led team, with Canterbury going on to complete the double when it overpowered Wellington 40-27 in the Air New Zealand NPC final in the capital seven weeks later.

Canterbury ended the 2004 campaign having turned back challenges from Southland (52-13), and Northland (68-19).

The side then added a further seven successful defences to the tally last season, taking the shield on tour to Nelson where the then reigning second division champions Nelson Bays were put to the sword 85-0.

A 27-12, four try to nil, crushing of that year’s eventual NPC champions Auckland was another highlight.

Canterbury also showcased the province’s tremendous playing depth when farcically forced to defend the trophy without its current All Blacks against virtually full strength Waikato and Wellington sides.

Despite this apparent disadvantage, the younger Canterbury combination handled the pressure superbly to see off Waikato 23-15, and then Wellington 15-14, before locking the shield up for a second summer after the defeat of Auckland.

The combination of retaining the shield, and the uncertainty that can be created by players returning to the group mid-campaign did take its toll on Canterbury’s NPC fortunes last year, however, impacting during the twin losses to Otago that ended the title defence.

Perhaps last Sunday’s North Harbour defeat was a case of history repeating?

Regardless of the reasons behind the latest reign’s termination, the shield’s hold on the Canterbury public continued until the very end, with pre-season challenges away to South Canterbury and at home to the last third division champions Wairarapa-Bush being comfortably dealt with, before the Southland, Otago and Counties threats were disposed of during the initial pool play section of the Air New Zealand Cup.

If the North Harbour defeat was as disappointing as it was unexpected, some consolation can at least be gained by the fact that the shield is headed to a new home where it will be cherished, and where it’s magic should kick start a revival in public interest; as occurred prior to the start of the Canterbury reign during its magical three week stint in the Bay of Plenty.

For the Canterbury players, the shield will be missed from its prominent position in the team changing room at training this week, although its absence may in some ways reduce the pressure on the side as it prepares for the arrival of Auckland.

As magnificent as the shield is, as the historical pinnacle of our provincial game, holding it brings with it external pressures that can sometimes be an unwelcome distraction.

Canterbury’s immediate predecessor as holder, Bay of Plenty, provides perhaps the best example of this.

Freed of the pressure and the suffocating ‘must win’ expectation that their brief flirtation with the shield induced, Bay of Plenty cut loose in exhilarating fashion the week after its departure to flatten Otago 44-16.

Canterbury will be looking for a similar inspiration against Auckland at Jade on Saturday night!

Canterbury’s Longest Shield Runs (in terms of successful defences)

25              1982-85

23               1953-56

23                2000-03

15                1931-34

14                2004-06

Canterbury’s Shield Eras (& number of challengers resisted)

  1. 1928-29 (1)
  2. 1931-34 (15)
  3. 1935 (4)
  4. 1950 (0)
  5. 1953-56 (23)
  6. 1969-71 (9)
  7. 1972-73 (2)
  8. 1982-85 (25)
  9. 2000-03 (23)
  10. 2004-06 (14)