Rugby: Counties need repeat dose

By Campbell Burnes

Shield holders look to keep roll on up front as they tackle fifth defence of their tenure.

Counties Manukau fullback Jared Page will hope to maintain his good form. Photo / Getty Images
Counties Manukau fullback Jared Page will hope to maintain his good form. Photo / Getty Images

More of the same, please.

That might be the message conveyed to the Steelers as they contemplate their second Ranfurly Shield defence of the season, and fifth of their tenure, against Mid Canterbury tomorrow night in Pukekohe.

This follows a solid 68-0 win over Thames Valley in last Wednesday's first defence, a clash which featured 12 new Steelers.

Next week, the squad goes fulltime into their ITM Cup preparations, but for now the players can seal their place for the campaign. There will not be many changes from last week's 22, though first five-eighth Michael Stanley comes on to the bench after passing concussion tests.

Forwards coach Grant Henson, who played 101 games for the union, is hoping for similar accuracy and energy as was shown last weekend.

"Obviously Thames Valley weren't too much of a challenge at set-piece time, but it was good from a first game point of view."

Among the standouts was new fullback Jared Page who scored 33 points and will again wear the No15 jersey, while Kane Hancy and Ahsee Tuala bring skill and much-needed experience to the key 9-10 positions.

All the Steelers squad were rested from club play on Saturday.

Henson said the Shield still acts as a talismanic, galvanising presence for the team.

"Last week, we brought it into our training facility and we noticed a lift in intensity and accuracy. Maybe we should have it there all the time."

Henson admitted Mid Canterbury were an unknown quantity in 2014, but they bring good form from 2013.

"They won their comp and put 40-odd points on Thames Valley (44-11) last year, so just going by that we are expecting a bit more up-front and more flair in the backs."

Mid Canterbury won their first Meads Cup in the Heartland Championship, under the guidance of former Highlanders coach Glenn Moore, defeating North Otago in the final on a windswept day made famous for one of the more extraordinary kickoffs in rugby history that blew backwards beyond the goalline.

In 12 challenges since 1933, Mid Canterbury have never lifted the Log o' Wood, unlike their neighbours to the south, and big cousins to the north, to whom they lost their last tilt 78-10 in 2002. The then 19-year-old replacement hooker Jon Sharpe is now 31 and back for another crack.

Ranfurly Shield

• Counties Manukau v Mid Canterbury
• ECOLight Stadium, Pukekohe, 6pm, tomorrow

- NZ Herald

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