Opinion: From Ranfurly Shield glory to damaging NZR investigation

An image was shared with what appears to be a white powder on the Ranfurly Shield. Photo:...
An image was shared with what appears to be a white powder on the Ranfurly Shield. Photo: Supplied to RNZ
Analysis - There are bad days and then there are breaking-the-Ranfurly-Shield-in-half-and-having-a-potential-drug-scandal-on-your-hands days. That's what the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union had to deal with on what should have been a Sunday when their biggest worry was nursing a hangover, after a challenge the day before in Wellington.

Instead, the undeniable power of people with smartphones gave them a far greater headache when footage emerged of the shield, or rather what was left of it.

On first glance, it appeared to be some sort of very well-planned joke. But after an inquiry to NZ Rugby, it became clear that the oldest and most iconic prize in the game had indeed been split in half. And not the way that's often joked about in regard to what the captain gets to do with the shield after a successful challenge.

"They're devastated mate," Hawke's Bay Rugby Union chief executive Jay Campbell said of the team on Sunday evening, after confirming that a bad set of hands and a polished concrete floor were the main factors in the Log of Wood now being two planks.

"No one is more disappointed than Hawke's Bay Rugby and those involved. For us to be the cause of damage to something that's so unique and special to New Zealand rugby is devastating.

"But ultimately at the end of the day it was an absolute accident."

Some important context was missing, however. The accident took place after a rugby team had just won a major grudge match, so you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what they'd been doing in between given that Campbell confirmed the team went straight to a bar that sponsors them after returning to Napier. The video that had been leaked showing what was left of the Shield didn't exactly scream remorse, but a more damning screenshot started circulating soon after showing what appears to be white powder lined up on one of the broken halves.

NZ Rugby have confirmed they are investigating, and there may well be more serious issues for the Magpies than just finding a reliable woodworker.

"You only look after it till someone comes and beats you. We have it in our possession and whether it's an accident or not, it's up to us to get fixed and we're starting that process," Campbell said, after firing a barb at previous holders Wellington's rumoured financial woes.

"To be honest, they haven't got a cent to be able to make any sort of payment."

Campbell did somewhat uncover the uncomfortable truth about what the bigger issue is, because while they should be hanging their heads in shame about what happened to the Shield, it can be fixed. The same might not be able to be said about the NPC. There is absolutely no love lost between unions between Hawke's Bay and Wellington, in a national system recently found to be worthy of a complete overhaul by an independent review of NZR's governance.

Because really, what's the sadder sight: A broken shield or the fact that Wellington's entire tenure was played in front of three men and a dog, much like every province that's held it over the last decade and a half.

Campbell confirmed that the accident wasn't going to affect their public celebrations of winning the shield, because none were planned, despite him describing Hawke's Bay being "a rugby province and one that idolises the shield".

He's certainly got a point about one thing, though.

"It takes the gloss off what we should be talking about, which was a fantastic game of rugby yesterday where we went down and beat a team that hadn't lost for 16 games, that's what we should be talking about."

Except we probably won't because no one's really given provincial rugby much airtime this season, or for quite a while. And they won't, until something like this happens again.

By Jamie Wall