The historic Hawke's Bay Ross Shield primary schools rugby tournament is set to take place next week in some of the toughest conditions in its 119 years as organisers make sure it goes ahead within the limitations of the latest pandemic alert.
The tournament, first held in 1902, and now for players no heavier than 56kg and mainly in their last two years before high school, had a rare cancellation last year. It now makes a welcome return at Elwood Park, Hastings, with three games a day from Monday to Friday in the first week of the October school holidays.
This year it will be held without public admission, although provincial primary schools rugby chairman Mark Gifkins says the limits will be relaxed if the alert level drops from level 2 to level 1.
The park will become the field of dreams, with many All Blacks and Hawke's Bay Magpies having enjoyed the Ross Shield experience.
Most notable has been the last two decades since Israel Dagg, as a forward in headgear, won the Player of the Tournament Award in Dannevirke in 2001, playing for winning team Hastings East.
He went on to play 66 times for the All Blacks, 114 matches in Super Rugby for the Highlanders and the Crusaders, and 50 games for the Magpies, mainly at fullback. He is now a rugby broadcaster and radio show host.
All Black wing Zac Guildford and Super Rugby players Richard Buckman and Daniel Kirkpatrick were among those in the same tournament.
Gifkins says it would have been a big blow for dozens of young players and for Hawke's Bay rugby had a whole two-year window of players missed out on the chance to play Ross Shield rugby.
Originally based on the six sub-unions of Hawke's Bay (including Taupo, prior to its joining King Country in 1987), the Ross Shield teams represent Wairoa, Napier, Hastings West, Hastings East, Central Hawke's Bay and Dannevirke.
Capped and ready to go, teams arrive in Hastings on Sunday for the first big test – the weigh-in, where each player must be no more than 56kg.
It will be at Parkvale School, with Delta level 2 conditions in place, meaning there can be only one team on-site at a time.
Gifkins said each team has been allocated 40 "lanyards" for their limit at each game, comprising the traditional 22 players, coaches and managers, and a limited number of supporters, all allowed at the park only for their team's matches.
The games will, however, be live-streamed on the Sideline.Live app, with a $9.95 plan to cover all the games, and commentary from coaching luminary Tom Blake.
In another break from tradition, the billeting which has been a feature of Ross Shield tournament week will not be possible, so the Hastings, Napier and Central Hawke's Bay players will travel to the games each day and return home afterwards.
The Wairoa and Dannevirke teams will be accommodated in separate team bubbles.
Hastings West will be looking to win the Shield for a fourth time in a row, having won in Napier in 2017, shared honours with Napier in Waipukurau in 2018, and claiming the shield outright again in Wairoa two years ago.
Central Hawke's Bay will defend the Life Members Salver as the best of the three country teams at the 2019 tournament. There will be keen competition for the Josh Kronfeld Medal for Player of the Tournament, while several other trophies are on the line, including individual match silverware.
The Wakely Shield tournament for players under 50kg will be held in the second week of the holidays.
The draw for the Ross Shield Hawke's Bay primary schools rugby tournament at Elwood Park is on October 4-8. There is no public admission, due to level 2 rules.
Monday: 11am, Central Hawke's Bay v Hastings West; 1pm, Wairoa v Dannevirke; 3pm Napier v Hastings East.
Tuesday: 11am, Central Hawke's Bay v Hastings East; 1pm, Napier v Wairoa; 3pm Hastings West v Dannevirke.
Wednesday: 11am, Napier v Dannevirke; 1pm, Wairoa v Central Hawke's Bay; 3pm, Hastings East v Hastings West.
Thursday: 11am, Napier v Central Hawke's Bay; 1pm, Wairoa v Hastings West; 3pm, Dannevirke v Hastings East.
Friday: 11am, Central Hawke's Bay v Dannevirke; 1pm, Hastings East v Wairoa; 3pm, Hastings West v Napier.