Rugby: Waikato retain Ranfurly Shield

By Niall Anderson

Waikato 55 King Country 0
Hame Faiva scores for Waikato during the Ranfurly Shield match. Photo / Photosport
Hame Faiva scores for Waikato during the Ranfurly Shield match. Photo / Photosport

Waikato have retained the Ranfurly Shield, and given their coaching staff plenty to ponder in the process.

A 55-0 victory over King Country at a muddy Bedford Park in Matamata was as efficient as expected, and promoted the region's young talent with Waikato's squad for the Mitre 10 Cup set to be named.

In what was realistically a pre-season friendly artificially elevated by the presence of the Shield, Waikato battled through some woeful conditions to seal the eight tries to nil win.

One day, a Heartland province will pull off a stunning upset, creating the tantalisingly bizarre prospect of the Shield bouncing around the grassroots of New Zealand rugby for a season.

King Country held that fleeting dream early in the first half, keeping in touch through 35 minutes until three tries in a five minute spell before the half blew the game open - the best of the bunch being an 80 metre counter-attacking try finished by the electric Jordan Trainor.

Aided by the slippery conditions, King Country provided a committed defensive effort to maintain respectability to the scoreline in the second half, before the visitors again cashed in during the dying minutes to run in three more late tries.

With Waikato's 2016 squad yet to be named, today's clash will have only further enhanced the competition for places, with many of the young backs a chance to crack a team missing departed 2015 regulars Brad Weber (Hawke's Bay) and Joe Webber and Regan Ware (Bay of Plenty).

Impressive players like Trainor are set to battle with the experience of Isaac Boss, Stephen Donald and Willis Halaholo, while Chiefs regulars Damian McKenzie, Shaun Stevenson and Anton Leinert-Brown are likely to form part of what should be a free-running unit.

That young talent will need to contribute in the upcoming season for the two-time champions, who have been consistent without shining over the past four years, failing to make the first division semifinals, yet avoiding the drop to division two.

Finishes of fifth, fifth, sixth and sixth have been fair reflections of a side that have often delighted with an attacking brand of rugby, yet haven't reached the level of a title threat.

Whether defending the Shield can spur them on to greater results will be discovered soon, as the Log of Wood goes on the line once more against Wanganui next Saturday, before North Harbour visit in late August for the first regular season defence.

Waikato 55 (Alainu'uese, Faiva (2), Trainor, Iti, Reece, Lansdown, Taufui tries; Trainor six cons, pen)
King Country 0
Halftime: 29-0

- NZ Herald

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