There were no parades or shops shutting at lunchtime. No green and gold balloons or banners hanging across the main street.

Some Ashburton locals settled for the TV replay after work.

It was more a slight temperature than Shield fever.

"It's not what it used to be," said Stirling Sports sales assistant Tracey Murison.

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Even Mid Canterbury rugby boss Ian Patterson accepted in the local Ashburton Guardian newspaper: "It's probably not like it was 20 years ago when the town would shut down for the afternoon."

Still, the famous Log o' Wood was on the front page.

And come kick-off for Canterbury's 135th Ranfurly Shield defence against little brother Mid Canterbury at Ashburton Showgrounds this afternoon, the heartland passion of the most coveted piece of silverware in New Zealand rugby was uproarious from the sidelines.

On a perfect blue Canterbury winter's day, the Southern Alps snow-capped in the distance, temporary tents and marquees overflowed. Gumboots on grass embankment. Concrete grandstand creaking like some of its inhabitants' knees.

School kids (free entry for under 17s... $20 for adults) formed a healthy part of the 3000-odd crowd.

Around 40 Ashburton College kids got official permission to skip fifth period.

"Education is wider than just sitting in a classroom," deputy principal Ron Cresswell said.

The game's build-up was low key. Driving around or wandering the streets, you wouldn't have known there was a big game was on.

Mid Canterbury captain Jackson Donlan dropped by Stirling Sports hours before the match to buy a new mouth guard.

"Unfortunately we didn't have any green and gold ones," Murison said.

She recalls the 1995 challenge against Canterbury, where Mid Canterbury lost 64-19.

Her son had won a competition to be the local side's mascot, but appendicitis had ruled him out.

Before the game, the players and Shield paraded down the main street that was lined with handwritten 'Go Hammers!' signs.

There were no pre-match events this year, and "no real buzz" either, which Murison found sad.

Some got into the spirit of things early though.

Mick Buchanan and Mark Williams enjoyed some pre-game beers before watching the game in a hospitality tent: "Because we're good bastards".

Mick Buchanan and Mark Williams enjoyed some pre-game beers before watching the game in a hospitality tent. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Mick Buchanan and Mark Williams enjoyed some pre-game beers before watching the game in a hospitality tent. Photo / Kurt Bayer

Buchanan remembers the 2002 challenge against the red-and-blacks from up the road, and witnessing a young Dan Carter dominate.

"I rang my brother and said this Carter kid might be quite handy," he said.

Mid Canterbury stalwart Steve MacAskill, who has more than 100 caps for the MC Hammers, dropped in to Sparrows clothing store (est. 1887) mid-morning yesterday for a cuppa with shop owner Richard Wilson.

"We're just discussing tactics," says Wilson.

Confidence is the key, they agree.

"Yeah they've got to have no fear and rip into them," MacAskill says.

A quiet beer for lunch and get to the ground early. That's the plan.

For the players, MacAskill believes, the shield still means everything.

"I can still remember the kick-off in 1995," he recalls.

"We mauled the ball up the park 40 metres, which gave us belief that, hey they're not so special."

Mid Canterbury fans Richard Wilson and Steve MacAskill get ready for the big game. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Mid Canterbury fans Richard Wilson and Steve MacAskill get ready for the big game. Photo / Kurt Bayer

The match itself - on a hard, dry track - entertained the crowd, despite Canterbury blowing out their Heartland opponents 69-7.

Snippets of crowd chat caught in the crisp winter breeze: Bloody townies... I used to be a winger, now I'm a prop... Smile, Dave... Should we just go to the pub? It'll be on TV... C'mon Fridge!

'Skish' went the Speight's cans. Barefoot kids play their own mini matches behind the marquees.

Crayfish sandwiches, whitebait sandwiches, bacon butties, mega-burgers... "Got any pies?"

"Um, no. Sorry."

The Ranfurly Shield was still a great event for the town to host, Wilson believed.

"Sure, I remember the days of the parades and things, but me and my mates have been talking about this day for weeks. There's still a fair bit of excitement there."

Robbie's Bar and Bistro owner Skip Joyce expected a busy night.

"It's got the town humming a bit," Joyce said.

After the game, they got into their dusty Hiluxes and Landcruisers and headed home.

Others crushed their Speight's cans, tipped them into the 40-gallon drum bins, and started strolling in the late sun to the pub.