On Friday night when Otago won the Ranfurly Shield off Waikato, it had been 56 years since they held it last. Some people suggest that the Ranfurly Shield is no longer as important to New Zealanders (players and fans) as it once was, but the reaction after the win on Friday night proved that that isn’t necessarily the case. The man love was loud and proud, players jumping on each other, hugging each other, kissing each other (in a manly way, of course), hugging some more, jumping on each other some more and then hugging some more. It really was a beautiful sight to behold.
What REALLY showed just how important the mighty Log of Wood still is in the minds and hearts of New Zealanders was the Otago fans invading the pitch after the final whistle. They ran onto the field, they made a beeline for the players, and rather than security tackling them to the ground and marching them off the field, they stood aside as the fans celebrated WITH the players. Yes, the man love wasn’t just reserved for the players.
Fan hugged player. Player picked fan up off the ground and twirled him around. There were high fives and hugs and manly slaps on the back aaaaaaaaaaall around. One was taken back to the days before all fans were allowed to do was sit in their seat and clap politely. The days of running onto the field at the final whistle, of being part of the celebration, of being at one with the players.
Perhaps THAT is why people are no longer as interested in Ranfurly Shield matches or ITM Cup games?
It seems that lately my twitter feed post-rugby-match has been full of negativity (which may be partly due to the number of Australians I follow…) but on Friday night my feed was full of nothing but pride and excitement. Here are a few of the tweets that made me smile the most…
Scott Fuglistaller - @S_fuglistaller
Bar the World Cup, winning the Log O wood is the best experience any player could wish to have.
Mark Richardson - @markmywords2012
Was standing with Josh Kronfeld when he got the news. He broke down in tears. #Otagoholdtheshield
Nick Evans - @nick10evans
Wow Otago have The Shield, congrats to the team, there gonna be some Speights drunk tonight!!!!
Matthew Cooper - @MatthewCooperSW
great challenge; special & proud rugby province.
Southern Steel - @SteelNetball
Carl Hayman - @CarlHayman
@OtagoRugbyTeam big congrats to everyone for the shield win. Amazing stuff. Some sore heads today I would imagine and probably tomorrow.
I had planned to end this little piece here, but that was before I received the following email from my dad. I had asked him to send me a photo of him in his Otago jersey ‘looking proud’, he agreed and I waited patiently. What eventually arrived in my inbox was a little speel that for me sums up exactly what winning the Ranfurly Shield means for Otago rugby (in general)…
I was going for an image of ‘inner peace’ because that’s what I honestly feel. Not jubilation although I’m happy of course. Tell you what though …. I did walk around the Palms today and town yesterday feeling 6 inches taller in my Otago jersey. (And I’ll wear it to work tomorrow as I have some unfinished business there with a resident (Hayden) who was an Otago supporter until a couple of months ago and then switched to the red and black because “the Highlanders suck”.)
Yeah. ‘Inner peace’ because myself and probably thousands of other Otago supporters had become grandparents and not had a story to tell their grandkids that started “I remember when we won the Ranfurly Shield”. It really is a bucket list moment and to be honest, now that it’s happened, I won’t lose any sleep if we lose it first up.
If you want some other words … I found that after the final whistle went I didn’t go into unrestrained celebration as we’ve lost so often in the last few minutes that I was still expecting it to happen. It was like the last 10 minutes I was so mentally prepared for it to be snatched away from us at the end that when the final whistle went and we were still in front, I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t have a plan for victory.
I WILL finish this now by saying that although after 10 years in Christchurch I was swayed to switch allegiances, going from being a huge Highlanders/Otago fan to a huge Crusaders/Canterbury fan, I still felt the excitement and pride on Saturday night. With about 10 minutes to go I was clenching my wife’s hand tightly, finding it hard to breathe, thinking “oh my god, we might finally have this damn shield shaped piece of wood!”… as the seconds ticked down my excitement built, but I kept waiting for that final blow. And not of the whistle. The last minute try, the last minute penalty, the last minute brain fart that would lead to Waikato getting the points required to win. But it didn’t happen. As the team and fans celebrated I had tiny little tears in my eyes, and realised that perhaps I’m not as much of a one-eyed-Cantabrian as I had come to believe.
I think my father will be very happy to hear this.