Public celebrations will begin in earnest today to welcome home the victorious Ranfurly Shield-winning Hawke's Bay rugby team.
The Magpies are due to arrive back at Hawke's Bay Airport with the famous Log o' Wood at 12.45pm today after their 20-19 victory against Otago in Dunedin yesterday evening. Last time the province held it was 44 years ago.
Hawke's Bay Rugby Union commercial manager Jay Campbell said the players and management staff will make their way through the airport, where a number of fans are expected to greet them, before a victory parade through the streets of Napier at 3.15pm.
"It's going to be a huge week - I'm just over the moon that we've won it, its going to be massive."
Mr Campbell said the shield would then make its way around the region allowing all of Hawke's Bay to celebrate with the team. The Hastings City Council was last night also organising a parade along Heretaunga St in the city for 10.30am tomorrow.
The Napier parade today will begin on Tennyson Street then onto Hastings Street before turning right onto Emerson Street, left onto Dalton and Vautier Street before the team makes their way to McLean Park.
But last night all the focus was on the team and its amazing victory. Interviewed shortly after the final whistle, Magpies head coach Craig Philpott said: "A pretty special day ... the highlight of my coaching career."
Although the Magpies face Counties-Manukau in their first defence at Napier's McLean Park on Saturday Philpott said it was important the team had a couple of drinks last night before "getting back on the horse" today.
Philpott was full of praise for the "fantastic" support for the Magpies in Dunedin. In addition to Hawke's Bay based university students numerous fans made the trip south from Hawke's Bay, Auckland and Wellington. And the highlight of Philpott's day?
"Watching Mike Coman being presented with the shield ... Mike personifies what being a Magpie is all about."
Mr Campbell said when celebrating the tightly fought win last night: "Our team deserves this, these guys will go down as greats like the great shield team of the 60's. Craig Philpott is now a Ranfurly Shield winning coach!"
"Come Tuesday though it will be back to footy, we want to defend it this week, and then again in two weeks," he said. "Their focus returns to rugby and their first shield defence against Counties-Manakau on Saturday at 4.35pm - the team is conscious of its commitments to the Hawke's Bay community but with a five day turnaround is also very mindful that the Counties-Manakau team will be equally hungry to take the shield for the first time in their history come Saturday afternoon."
Plans for the Magpies homecoming were last night left to the wife of one of the stars of the 1966-69 Ranfurly Shield era, as deputy mayor Kathie Furlong confirmed the Shield will be shown-off as soon as possible after it arrives home. Mrs Furlong, wife of 1960s player and current Hawke's Bay union president Blair Furlong, said that as soon as the team can get away from the expected throng at the airport, they will go to Hawke's Bay Toyota, from where they will be taken through the centre of Napier on a fleet of Toyota Hi-Lux vehicles.
Thousands are expected be lining the streets by 3pm, and Mrs Furlong said she was aware from inquiries during the week that schools will let pupils off early to join the celebration.
Mrs Furlong, whose husband featured in one of the most dramatic moments of the 1960s era, when he kicked a dropped goal to secure a 12-all draw against Wellington and retain the Shield at the end of its first season back in the Bay, watched yesterday's game at home, alone, while her husband was at the game in Dunedin.
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said last night plans for a parade along Heretaunga St in Hastings were underway.
"We are going to throw a street parade they can be proud of. We want to let all the schools know so we can involve the community and schools."
He said the parade would take place at around 10.30am on Tuesday.
Hawke's Bay Rugby Union sponsorship manager Daniel Sommerville said the union is keen to take the Shield around the community and to Hawke's Bay schools.
"We are going to get it around the province, get it to the grass roots, to the schools and the sponsors that have supported us through thick and thin."
He said people in Wairoa, Dannevirke, and Waipukurau would all be able to experience the Ranfury Shield during the week.
Hawke's Bay Rugby Union patron and star 1960s Ranfurly Shield era prop Neil Thimbleby was right on the button before and after last night's Shield match triumph.
Affectionately known as "Thimbo," he backed the team during the week saying the team needed to "attack, attack, attack" if it wanted the most vaunted rugby trophy in New Zealand.
After watching the game on TV at home with family last night, the finger couldn't help finding the replay button as he watched again one of the fruits of the couch-sitter's game plan, the game-breaking try by Magpies five five-eighths Ihaia West.
"It's bloody enormous. I was really screaming, I was on my feet, screaming," he said.
Last nights victory was especially sweet for Magpies reserve halfback Chris Eaton after a difficult year with the death of his wife, Hannah Eaton, in a Easter weekend car crash.
Tickets go on sale today for the first shield defence and can be purchased at the Hastings Opera House and Hawke's Bay Rugby at McLean Park from 8.45am.