Otago focus on Waikato, not shield

Otago fullback Michael Collins prepares for this weekend's Ranfurly Shield match against Waikato...
Otago fullback Michael Collins prepares for this weekend's Ranfurly Shield match against Waikato in Hamilton tomorrow. PHOTO GREGOR RICHARDSON
Otago fullback Michael Collins has been to Hamilton and returned with the Ranfurly Shield once before - he would like to do it again.

The team will add to its rich Shield history when it challenges Waikato in Hamilton tomorrow.

Five years ago, Otago ended an agonising 56-year wait for the Log o' Wood with a 26-19 win against Waikato.

Collins started at centre that day and cannot remember much about the match except desperately holding on towards the end as Waikato threatened to steal victory.

The surprise success was warmly received in the province. It is hard to imagine there is anyone in Otago who did not get a selfie with it in the following nine days before Hawke's Bay ripped it away.

And those are the memories which have stuck for Collins.

"I don't remember a hell of a lot about the match to be honest," he said.

"I remember we were up by seven or so and they were attacking and we defended for a long period at the end.

"The cool thing about the Shield is it means so much to people, especially the older generation. I was about 20 and probably did not understand the enormity of it at the time.

"But it is special when you are able to do something on the rugby field which means so much .

"We got an awesome reaction. I remember seeing my grandparents with it and it was just so rewarding."

Regardless of how often players try to convince themselves it is just another game, the Shield brings extra profile. That additional hype is usually met with a lift in intensity.

Winning the Shield against Taranaki helped Waikato turn its season around. It started with three consecutive losses but it is now firmly entrenched at the top of the Championship standings and is playing good rugby.

Wrestling the Shield off the home side will be difficult.

"What we've focused on is how we beat Waikato and not how we win the Shield."

The first step is to make sure the team can establish parity up front. The Otago pack was shunted around by a beefy Tasman unit in the 47-21 loss at Forsyth Bar Stadium on Sunday.

Otago was without a sizeable contingent of its leading players for that encounter and had played three games in nine days.

"It wasn't our best performance. Our first half was a bit off.

"But I think if you look at the second half we won it 21-19 and that gave the boys the confidence that we don't need to be gun-shy against supposedly better teams."

Collins is confident his side will produce an improved performance up front. If Otago does that, then there is no doubting the talent in the backline.

"Waikato is a really strong team but at the end of the day they are a team that is beatable.

"I think we can trust in what we are doing and not go away from our structure too much to be able to get a result."

Otago has made one change from the team which was named earlier in the week. Lock Tom Rowe has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. Sione Misiloi will start in his place with Josh Larsen coming on to the bench as cover.


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