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Hope, agony and ecstasy are all emotions the Ranfurly Shield has become synonymous with in Otago. As the side attempts to wrest the log o’ wood off Waikato today, Jeff Cheshire looks back at five of its most memorable Shield challenges of the past 25 years.
1994 v Canterbury
This was probably Otago’s most famous Shield defeat. The side had beaten Canterbury 56-25 earlier that season and headed north with high hopes and huge support behind it. It took an early lead and led 20-19 late in the game. The story from there has been told so many times it hardly needs retelling. Referee Colin Hawke deemed David Latta to be offside at a ruck. Andrew Mehrtens stepped up and duly broke the hearts of thousands of blue and gold supporters.
2000 v Canterbury
It was six years until Otago got another proper crack at the Shield — the only other challenge came in 1999 when half the team was at the World Cup. Otago led 26-14 with 20 minutes to play this time around. But Canterbury mounted an almighty comeback. Caleb Ralph capped that in the dying stages, his try stealing another Shield victory from Otago.
2002 v Canterbury
Did anyone else feel like going for a walk as this game entered the last 20 minutes? The tension was tangible as Otago led 13-6 after an enormous defensive effort had kept the Canterbury attack quiet. But by that point we knew better. This was Canterbury, at Lancaster Park, with the Ranfurly Shield on the line. Justin Marshall scored under the posts with 15 minutes to play to level the score. Then in the closing stages, that man Mehrtens kicked another late penalty to snatch another win.
2010 v Southland
At least this time the heartbreak did not come in the final minute — and it was not Canterbury. That did not make it much easier to stomach though. Otago led 12-9 when Jamie Mackintosh reached out to score a very contentious match-winning try with 12 minutes remaining. Otago fans will claim to this day that there was a double-movement in the play, but none of that matters in the final wash.
2013 v Waikato
At long glorious last. After three years of waiting for another challenge, Otago finally took the log o’ wood home after 22 unsuccessful challenges dating back to 1957. The side battled out to a seven-point lead, before clinging on with a gutsy defensive effort in the final minutes. Perhaps a good omen five years later.