The Hawke's Bay Magpies are still hoping to schedule at least one more Ranfurly Shield defence after yesterday's confirmation Heartland champions North Otago will challenge at the end of next month.
As holder of Heartland rugby's Meads Cup, won in 2019 and not contested last year because of the Covid-19 crisis, North Otago still has an automatic right to a challenge.
They also had a challenge last August, when the Oamaru-based side were beaten 71-7 by Canterbury in Christchurch.
North Otago chairman Warren Prestcott told Hawke's Bay Today in January his union wanted to go another round, and a match at McLean Park, Napier, on June 30, has been confirmed by Hawke's Bay counterpart Jay Campbell.
But as yet there are no other challengers before the Bunnings Warehouse NPC, in which holders' home round-robin matches are also automatic matches for the Shield.
Campbell said it had been difficult scheduling matches in the uncertainty around the NPC campaign, the draw for which is not expected to be announced until next week.
"But we are delighted to be playing North Otago who are a perennial Heartland Championship heavyweight who we know will be difficult opponents and be highly motivated by the opportunity to play for and attempt to win the Log o' Wood," he said.
"We would have loved to have played another defence against one of our near-neighbours but with club rugby finals finishing earlier, it's difficult to find a date that works for both sides. We will continue investigating an opportunity."
Hawke's Bay and North Otago last met in an NPC second-division semi-final at McLean Park in 2005, when the Magpies won 15-11. Next month's game will be the first Ranfurly Shield match between the two unions.
The Magpies' preparations start in earnest with a squad of more than 30 travelling to Taupo tomorrow for a 6.30pm match against the Waikato squad, both sides missing Super Rugby competition players.
Hawke's Bay has more than a full XV committed to the professional competition, which starts its transtasman phase this weekend, meaning fourth-season coach Mark Ozich and assistant Josh Symes are delving deep into the talents of club rugby for their options.
Pre-NPC preparations will also include the annual Queen's Birthday match against southern neighbour Wairarapa-Bush on June 7.
The Shield-match squad will be a mixture of locally-based players combined with returning Super players, Ozich said.
"We are excited to be getting back out onto McLean Park and are expecting a tough challenge from the North Otago boys," he said.
Canterbury's Shield tenure last year lasted just one more match before a one-point loss to Taranaki, who then lost to Otago, from whom the Magpies won the trophy with a 28-9 win in Dunedin on October 4.
Hawke's Bay successfully defended the Shield with three comfortable wins against Northland, Manawatū and Wellington, and the Magpies will against North Otago be aiming to make Hawke's Bay the third-most-successful defender in the 117 years since the Shield was first contested in 1904.
Auckland has had 146 successful defences, Canterbury 139, Waikato 60 and Hawke's Bay 59.