9 Oct 2017

Holy Grail of heartland rugby takes a trip to church

7:19 pm on 9 October 2017

The Ranfurly Shield has made a surprise visit to church as Taranaki continues to bask in their dramatic come-from-behind victory over Canterbury at the weekend.

Seta Tamanivalu and Waisake Naholo holding the Ranfurly Shield at training at the TSB Stadium.

Seta Tamanivalu and Waisake Naholo holding the Ranfurly Shield at training at the TSB Stadium. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The side's Fijian players took the Log o' Wood along to the City of Refuge Church in New Plymouth so the congregation could get up close to the famous rugby trophy.

Taranaki winger Seta Tamanivalu said the visit came out of the blue.

"It was pretty good. We surprised them - they didn't know we were coming.

"Some of them hadn't seen the shield before or put their hand on it so it was pretty good to turn around and give something back to the people who enjoy it."

Tamanivalu said the Taranaki players were shocked at the thousands of people who lined the streets to welcome the team home after their stunning 55-43 victory.

"It was amazing, eh? I was telling a few of the boys I didn't expect the crowd to be so big but it shows how passionate the people here are about us bringing the shield back home."

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Coach Paul Tito overseeing training. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Before the shield could make it to Tamanivula's church it first had to be wrestled from the grasp of forwards coach Paul Tito, who played 100 times for Taranaki.

For him, the shield victory had special meaning.

"It eluded me as a player. I think we had five or six challenges and got fairly close on a couple of occasions and it's actually really nice to win it - it was a really special moment."

Tito said the shield had lost none of its allure to people in the provinces.

"It's very unique in New Zealand sport. I think the shield still holds that real aura about it so it's great to see so many people about town that are really buzzing and it's great for the province."

The Taranaki side face their first challenge for the shield on Wednesday from championship side and neighbours Manawatu.

Assistant general manager at Crowded House Bar and Grill, Brian Mattock, said Manawatu would have their work cut out against Taranaki.

"I guarantee Manawatu will bring up some big support ... but the feeling and the morale in the team at the moment is just so high, it's going to be a very hard challenge for Manawatu."

If the Turbos did get up and win the match, Taranaki would have the ignominy of holding the record for the shortest ever shield tenure.

Paul Tito was not taking that likelihood lightly.

"Manawatu are a quality outfit, they've played really well this year and they're well coached by Jeremy Cotter and we've got a lot of respect for him."

Taranaki Rugby Union said it had sold 2000 tickets by midday today and it was hoping for a significant boost on its average gate this season of about 5000.

And once the shield is secure for the summer - and pending results - the union was already planning for the Mitre 10 Cup playoff and another bumper pay-day.