McLean Park in Napier could see one of its biggest national rugby championship crowds for Hawke's Bay's 100th Ranfurly Shield match on November 8.
The Magpies will play the Wellington Lions with the Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union hoping that with varying factors lining up, a sunny Sunday afternoon crowd of more than 10,000 is possible.
The Bay's 100th shield match was confirmed when the Magpies saw off challengers Manawatu with a 47-12 win in front of a better-than-expected crowd of about 7200 on Saturday.
While both teams have matches to think of first this weekend, as they strive for top-four placings and possible home-match Mitre 10 Championship and Premiership playoffs berths, fans' thoughts are already turning to the shield match in 12 days' time, driven by both the form of their team and the history of Hawke's Bay-Wellington matches.
There have been nine Ranfurly Shield matches between the unions, dating back to the first of the Bay's 99 games to date, a successful Wellington defence won 11-3 at Athletic Park in the capital in 1905.
The Magpies' five shield match wins against Wellington include the most recent between the two, a 36-14 victory in a successful defence at McLean Park in October 2014.
With a crowd of 10,200, it was the Bay;'s 50th Ranfurly Shield defence, the 50th Hawke's Bay match for current captain Ash Dixon and it was also the last time Wellington had a challenge against any union – with 18 of New Zealand's other 25 unions all getting a shot at some stage in the meantime. Wellington have not held the shield since 2009.
Adding to the appeal of the November 3 match is a special part of Ranfurly Shield history in similar circumstances when first five-eighths Blair Furlong drop-kicked a goal for the Bay to snatch a 12-12 draw with Wellington in front of an estimated 26,000 fans at McLean Park to save the shield in the last minute of the first season of defences of the 1966-1969 era.
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The next-most famous are the Magpies' 1926 defence at McLean Park, which Hawke's Bay won 58-8, and Wellington's 13-12 win in a defence at Athletic Park in 1982, seen as some sort of payback for Furlong's heroics 15 years earlier.
HBRFU chief executive Jay Campbell said that while the milestone of a 100th shield match would appeal to the fans and the media, the Magpies are keeping their eye on the Championship, firstly this Sunday's non-shield Battle of the Bays match against Premiership side Bay of Plenty in Tauranga.
The Magpies are currently joint leaders of the Championship division, tied with Otago and looking for a title late in November and promotion to the Premiership for next season.
While the Magpies had a day off on Labour Day, it's "back to work" for all on Tuesday, when the administration will start planning for the Shield match, after which the union hopes to be able to lock the trophy away in its own cabinet for the summer.
"Bearing in mind what's at stake - both teams will also be chasing the top positions for the playoffs - and with a sunny Hawke's Bay Sunday afternoon, hopefully, it will bring out the shorts, singlets and the jandals," Campbell said.
A "10,000-plus" crowd is the target, with a number around the 13,000 of a Hurricanes Super Rugby game possible, he says.
McLean Park with its current configuration has a capacity of about 16,000.