Games don’t come much bigger than this – apart from the finals.
Tomorrow, North Otago hosts Mid Canterbury at Whitestone Contracting Stadium. For the Old Golds, a win is crucial to securing a spot in the Meads Cup – and the Hanan Shield is also on the line.
The Hanan Shield has been played for between North Otago, South Canterbury and Mid Canterbury since 1945. If North Otago wins tomorrow, the shield will be locked away in the its trophy cabinet for the summer for the first time since 2011.
“It’s our Ranfurly Shield,” North Otago Rugby Football Union chief executive Colin Jackson said.
“There is such a prominent rivalry between the three provincial unions – it’s critically important.”
The game is also an important as far as North Otago’s progress in the Heartland Championship goes.
Last weekend’s 27-22 loss to Wanganui means North Otago sits in fourth position with two games to play.
Just six points separate the top eight teams. As a measure of how closely the teams are matched, second-placed West Coast only just squeaked past last-placed East Coast 21-19 last weekend.
It was an error-prone performance at Whitestone Contracting Stadium on Saturday, but North Otago coach Jason Forrest said his team would take plenty of lessons from it.
North Otago trailed 20-10 at half time, and 27-10 with time running out.
It showed good heart and fitness to claw back into the game, and late tries to Ralph Darling and Anthony Arty got the Old Golds within bonus point range.
“Wanganui are a seriously good side, and we just made too many errors,” Forrest said.
“We showed some ticker to get the one [bonus] point, which is huge.”
Mid Canterbury was second-last on the standings, but was a better side than the table suggested, he said.
“They have had some close ones not go their way – we will have to physically front up.
“It’s a simple scenario now, we will take it game-at-a-time, but we need the 10 points [from two remaining games].”
At the start of the season, one of the squad’s main goals was to win and hold the Hanan Shield.
The first part of that mission has been completed, but there is still a job to do on Saturday.
“This week is huge, our fate is in our hands.”
Forrest encouraged North Otago fans to turn out in force tomorrow and support their local team. Kickoff is at 2.30pm.