Shield reign no bonanza for Otago

Captains Michael Collins (left) and Luke Whitelock shake hands as Otago hand the Ranfurly Shield...
Captains Michael Collins (left) and Luke Whitelock shake hands as Otago hand the Ranfurly Shield over the Canterbury. Photo: Getty Images
The Ranfurly Shield has departed but its stay helped shine light on the game in the province even if it did not boost the bank balance of the Otago union.

Otago held the shield for six defences - its third-best reign - but could not keep out Canterbury in its last challenge of the year, going down 35-25 on Saturday night.

It was always going to be tough against Canterbury which put out a strong side and pressed relentlessly right through the game and strangled the Otago attack.

Otago was heroic in defeat but now the focus switches to its final game of the regular season against n Northland in Whangarei on Sunday.

Otago has already qualified for the playoffs in the Championship section of the Mitre 10 Cup but will not host a semifinal. It will be out to win the Championship to end the season with some silverware and earn promotion to the Premiership.

The shield reign did not translate into a financial bonanza for the union.

When Otago won the shield in 2013 for the first time in 56 years, a crowd of more than 17,000 went to Forsyth Barr Stadium to watch the first, and last, defence against Hawke's Bay.

But crowds for this season in Mitre 10 Cup games never approached anywhere near that number.

A crowd of 8500 turned up to see Otago defend the shield against Southland in August as plenty of Southland fans made the trip to support their side.

But crowds dropped from that figure for the games against Manawatu, Taranaki and Waikato, fewer than 4000 attending each game.

There was a crowd of 4600 for the match against Canterbury - again boosted by travelling fans - but the attendances were below what the Otago union would have hoped for.

Otago Rugby Football Union general manager Richard Kinley said the shield got the rugby message across as it was taken out to schools, rest homes and the wider community. That got the community involved and was fantastic and very well received.

"Unfortunately, that hasn't translated into financial success,'' Kinley said.

"While really appreciative of the people that got behind the team and came to home games, [we're] very disappointed more people didn't come along.

"The rugby played has been some of the best I've seen in my eight seasons. I don't believe there is anything wrong with the product.''

Otago bagged a first-up win over Southland and then notched exciting wins over Manawatu and Taranaki. It then took on Premiership side Waikato and won 45-35 with some dazzling back play.

The Otago union is not hosting a test this year which is a blow to the union's bottom line.


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