So much for the "Magic of the Ranfurly Shield".

The tired cliché, trotted out by hopeful commentators in every lopsided Shield challenge, received one of its most optimistic uses yet when Southland – losers of 17 straight games – held an 11-7 lead over Waikato with 30 seconds remaining until halftime.

In truth, nobody outside of Southland expected the 30 point underdogs to hold on, and sure enough, after kicking possession away with the halftime hooter nearing, Waikato came firing back, scoring through Sevu Reece to take the lead into the sheds.

Game over, wrote all impartial observers, and so it proved as Waikato piled on four second half tries to predictably run away with the contest and defend the Shield, 42-11.


Easy to say with the benefit of hindsight, you may allege, but consider this – When was the last time there was a truly stunning Shield upset?

Sure, Waikato's victories over Taranaki were surprising in their decisiveness, but when was the last time a 20-30 point underdog shocked New Zealand rugby to hoist the Shield?

The answer may actually involve Southland, but you'd have to go back to the turn of the decade, when they twice toppled Canterbury to win the Shield. Since then, the Log O' Wood has largely transitioned between a small cluster of largely major provinces, with no real shocks along the way.

So, when Southland went scoreless in the second half, there was no reason for surprise. In fact, it says a lot about the mismatch that Waikato can win by 31 points, retain the Shield, and book a Mitre 10 Cup Championship semifinal berth, yet probably still not be overly happy with their performance.

There's one Shield defence left for Waikato this season – a tricky challenge from Otago in the final round – while Southland have three games remaining to avoid the ignominy of a second straight winless campaign after the scoreline finally blew out.

It took two late Waikato tries to do so, but as they have done through the entire Shield tenure, Waikato got notable performances from electric winger Reece (Soon to become Sevu O'Reece with his impending move to Ireland) and burgeoning hooker Samisoni Taukei'aho, who bagged a double from close range to advance his stunning try tally to eight for the season.

That provided five competition points as Waikato remain atop the Championship ladder, and in truth, that was always going to be the most important takeaway from this afternoon's clash.

After all, despite their magic wish, Southland were never going to pull a rabbit out of the hat.


Waikato 42 (S Taukei'aho 2, D Sweeney, S Reece, M Iti, T Smith tries; F Smith 6 cons)
Southland 11 (T Tuimavave try; J Wilson 2 pens)
HT: 14-11