They call it “the hypothermia final”. Twenty years ago, Valley and Excelsior clashed in a Citizens Shield final that was played in Arctic conditions and resulted in several players being taken to hospital for treatment. Hayden Meiklefinds out more.
Kelvin Mansfield would like to tell you all about the 1997 Citizens Shield final.
The only problem is he has very little memory of the game.
Mansfield was one of the star men in a Valley side that was beaten 14-11 by Excelsior in the culmination of the North Otago premier rugby season 20 years ago.
Few remember the score. What everyone present that day does remember is that it was cold – as in extremely, horrifically cold.
Steady rain was followed by a southerly blowing straight off the Arctic and through the soaked jerseys of the poor saps running around on Centennial Park.
It was so miserable, a handful of Valley players had to be taken to Oamaru Hospital and treated for hypothermia.
Mansfield thinks he spent about six hours in hospital getting his core body temperature back to normal.
“But I’ve got no memory at all of going off the field.”
Team-mate Mike Mavor similarly has few memories of the game apart from the weather.
“Conditions were just atrocious. It was the worst I’d ever played in, and that included playing in snow when I was at school,” Mavor recalled.
“It had rained but there was also this really cold southerly. That’s about all I can remember about it.”
Valley, chasing a long-awaited Citizens Shield after having been beaten in three previous finals, had the wind at the first half and led 6-0 at the break thanks to two Mansfield penalties.
The famous (and true) story is that Excelsior players were given fresh jerseys at halftime so were able to cope better with the conditions in the second half.
“Grant Pringle, our manager, had fresh jerseys for us. That made a huge difference,” Excelsior stalwart Roly Senior recalled.
“Dingle still goes on about that to this day.”
Senior (that’s him in the old newspaper photo with very few clothes on) said it was 45 minutes after the final whistle before he could feel his fingers.
“It was unbelievable. I don’t think they’d play a game like that today.”
Excelsior, an unlikely finalist after starting the season with nine losses in 10 games, took command of the final with tries to Tony Washington and Chris Cherry.
Footage of the 1997 final can be found on You Tube.