South Canterbury axes Ranfurly Shield challenge

South Canterbury will not challenge for the Ranfurly Shield due to travel costs. Photo: Getty Images
South Canterbury will not challenge for the Ranfurly Shield due to travel costs. Photo: Getty Images
By Jonty Dine

It is the highlight of many amateurs and even some professional rugby players' careers in Aotearoa.

The story of the day they play for the Ranfurly Shield is told for generations.

But for the 2024 South Canterbury squad, the dream to challenge for the coveted Log o' Wood has been crushed under financial pressures.

The side was set to take on holders Hawke's Bay in Napier in July, though Whanganui will now take their place.

South Canterbury Rugby Football Union chief executive Tim Hyde-Smith said it was a difficult call to make.

"It was a deliberation over the last few weeks in consultation with coaches, management and the board. So, not a decision that was taken lightly."

He said it was gutting for both fans and players.

"I went down to training session on the Monday night and explained the situation. It's a big highlight for a lot of boys in their careers.

"We've been fortunate enough to have two challenges the last couple of years, which a majority of the boys have played in but for those new boys, yeah, it's something that they would have cherished and loved to have played."

Hyde-Smith said an increase in travel costs was the main barrier.

"The flights is the huge one, in 2022 when they challenged, the flights were around that $12,000-13,000 mark, this year they are $28,000."

South Canterbury did look for solutions.

"We did actually ask Hawke's Bay to come down here for the challenge at our new stadium and their reply was 'thanks for the offer, but we're worried about coming down to your neck of the woods'."

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) general manager community rugby Steve Lancaster said while it was disappointing he did not believe it would set a precedent of cancelled shield challenges.

"Rather than spending significant money on one game for one team, they are prioritising their resources across the community game, so we see it as an example of prudent financial management."

Lancaster said had South Canterbury not challenged for a while, they would have moved "heaven and earth," to get there, but as it was their third in three years, they made the financially responsible call to cancel.

"Given the year on year increases, and putting it in context, we think it's just a one off."

Hyde-Smith said the team was confident they could give the Magpies a good crack.

"I just think it's like any business to be honest. You have to look at costs, and how funds are being spent and how incomes coming in as well. Yeah, that's just a reflection of the times at the moment."

Despite the disappointment of not challenging for the Shield, South Canterbury remain highly motivated as they chase a fourth successive Mead's Cup title.

"We have set a high standard over the last three years. It will probably be something pretty unique if we could achieve a four-peat, for the team and the coaching group, certainly it will be creating a legacy that is unprecedented."