EMBARKING ON any journey to challenge for the Ranfurly Shield - never mind winning it - requires a certain mentality and breed of players.

Attributes such as mental fortitude, endurance, tenacity and physical fitness become prerequisites for earning that right although a game against the holders can come down to a lucky dip.

Oh, let's not forget that other intangible factor - the rub of the green.

"I just think everything has to go well," Otago Razorbacks coach Tony Brown said yesterday, only hours before his men lost 40-23 to the Northland Taniwha in Dunedin.


In what Brown considers a short turnaround, the Razorbacks will be jetting off to McLean Park, Napier, for a shield challenge against the Hawke's Bay Magpies this Sunday in a 4.35pm kick off.

Having broken a 57-year hoodoo last winter to lift the Log o' Wood from Waikato on August 23, Otago had to hand it over to the Magpies nine days later at the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium in what they considered a gut-wrenching 20-19 defeat.

You see, that's where this year's challengers reckon sometimes, just sometimes, it can become a lottery.

"Yes, sometimes luck comes in. Hawke's Bay know all about that when they won the shield off us. They were very lucky in the end," Brown said, after the Magpies had stunned them with a 20-point surge before defending the lead under intense pressure last year.

It was arguably the best ITM Cup match/top-tier Premiership or Championship game last season.

The Magpies then travelled south again to beat the Razorbacks 29-24 in an ill-tempered ITM Cup Championship semifinal on October 20.

Whatever the gripe it's all water under the bridge now.

As far as Brown is concerned that was last year and Sunday won't be a grudge match.


"It's just another challenge. We were lucky to get one against Counties so we're lucky to get two," said the 39-year-old former Otago and Highlanders player, who only played in one shield match in the early 2000s which Otago lost narrowly to Canterbury.

In his third season as coach after 71 caps as a player for Otago, Brown said it would be a big game on Sunday considering both teams didn't hang on to the log for a long time.

"We'll do the best we can to come close to Hawke's Bay," the former Highlanders, Sharks and Stormers pivot said.

A "solid 80 minutes" is imperative because the 29-25 effort against Counties-Manukau at Pukekohe on August 23 demanded that but the challengers had fallen shy in the physicality stakes.

He had some front-row injury concerns but expected to have a definitive assessment after last night's game before naming his line-up tomorrow.

It could boil down to who irons out those "little mistakes" in the height of contention.

Close to 20 members of his squad experienced the extreme emotions of ecstasy and agony last year.

They have had three decent consecutive hit outs in Counties-Manukau, Southland and Canterbury and Magpies coach Craig Philpott had already predicted the Taniwha imposed a Premiership-like challenge for his troops.

"It's been a tough three weeks and it's not going to get any easier but we're progressing well," Brown said, adding the abbreviated cup season "is what it is" and they were enjoying it immensely.

No doubt the memories of last year are still etched in the minds of the fans in the Deep South and revisiting it will boost a province that has grappled with its share of financial demons.

Brown arrived at the helm to become part of a renaissance to make them a powerful union again. "It's been a good three years since we went bankrupt so hopefully we'll only strengthen Otago rugby ... and improve every year."

While he has not experienced a packed McLean Park, he will be mindful of a proud Bay province that has exported talented players - such as Josh Kronfeld, Taine Randell, John Timu, Stu Forster and Paul Cooke - who went on to become All Blacks or Maori All Blacks.

Brown isn't sure what to expect from the fans after a sell-out test.

What he is certain of is Otago's preference for dry weather to ignite some scintillating rugby against a Magpies side who are equally adept at attacking.

"That's why we've got a roof here [in Dunedin]."