More than 20,000 fans were present in Dunedin to see recent winners of the Ranfurly shield, Otago face Hawkes Bay in the all Championship match.
Talking Rugby Union New Zealand correspondent, Scotty Donaldson, highlighted that the game was “a glowing endorsement of how the Ranfurly Shield has breathed a new lease of life into the ITM Cup with Championship teams experiencing rare Ranfurly Shield fever”.
In stark contrast to this was the rounds’ first match, where a lowly 2,000 fans came to see Premiership league leaders, Wellington face low ranked North Harbour.
The Ranfurly Shield clash was the hottest ticket of the round, as Otago’s reign as Shield holders was ended after just one week, with a nail-biting 20-19 victory for Hawkes Bay.
Hawkes Bay have not held the Shield since 1969, and regained the prise the hard way, as they held of a storm from Otago, with Buxton Popoali’i scoring a try just four minutes from the final whistle.
A difficult conversion was missed by Hayden Parker that would have put Otago in front; however, after some more strong forward play from the Razorback pack Otago set up a drop-goal opportunity on the final whistle. Scramble defence and an eventual charge down saw the attempt thwarted and the Hawkes Bay victory sealed.
Although not many SuperBru tipsters picked Hawkes Bay to lift the Ranfurly Shield, the round’s greatest upset came as Tasman smashed Counties 40-20. The Championship side upset proceedings with the win, leaving them one point shy of Hawkes Bay at the top of the now fiercely competitive Championship table.
In the Premiership, Canterbury showed their credentials as title contenders with an emphatic 47-10 victory over Waikato.
In the battle of the Norths, honours were equal as the teams were tied at an incredible 33 all. The game was highly entertaining as box office stars Rene and Rupeni took on Francis Sailli’s team.
Auckland just did enough, once again, defeating Bay of Plenty 32-17. Whilst the impressive, “Wellington juggernaut left it very late against Manawatu and just beat North Harbour earlier on in the round”, reported Scotty.
This year’s competition looks as if it is finally beginning to kick-start into action, with a number of Championship sides, particularly Tasman, Otago and Hawkes Bay, looking much better than their higher ranked counterparts.
Wellington look impressive at the top of the table with now four wins out of four; closely followed by Canterbury and Auckland. However, the battle to stay up is just as close, with Bay of Plenty, Counties, Waikato and Taranaki all recording only one victory so far this season.
Will the Ranfurly Shield be on the move again next weekend? Will a number of Championship sides continue to dominate the headlines in next week’s fourth round of the ITM cup?