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40th anniversary of Wellington’s Ranfurly Shield win over Waikato coming up

Wellington’s five All Blacks, from left to right Stu Wilson, Allan Hewson, Murray Mexted, Jamie Salmon and Bernie Fraser, emerge on to the tarmac with the Ranfurly Shield after their 22-4 win over Waikato. PHOTO: The Evening Post, 1 October 1981.

The Wellington Lions play the Waikato Mooloo in round two of the National Provincial Championship this coming Sunday. The game will be played a few weeks prior to the 40th anniversary of their famous mid-week Ranfurly Shield win over them. 

In 1981 Wellington achieved the Ranfurly Shield-National Provincial Championship double for the first and only time since the latter’s inception in 1976.

The closest they have come since was in 2008 when they last won the Ranfurly Shield, but fell to Canterbury (7-6) in the final. They haven’t won the Premiership/Division 1 final since 2000.

Wellington beat Waikato 22-4 on 30 September 1981 in Hamilton, a Wednesday.

Wellington had five All Blacks in that successful 1981 Wellington Lions team: Allan Hewson, Murray Mexted, Jamie Salmon and the wing duo of Stu Wilson and Bernie Fraser.

“Winning the Ranfurly Shield that year was special – going up to Hamilton and taking it off them and bringing it down to Wellington for the summer was a proud achievement for everyone involved,” Hewson told Club Rugby in a story on this subject in 2014.

“The build-up to that match was huge and was a like a Test match. Then after winning it, the celebrations went on for about a week.”

Wellington won the Ranfurly Shield off Waikato in a midweek challenge at Hamilton’s Rugby Park in front of 30,000 parochial Mooloo fans.

Hewson kicked a penalty and two conversions in the 18-point win, which at the time was the second highest winning Ranfurly Shield margin of victory by a successful challenging team.

To Waikato fans, the match was shrouded in controversy as their prop Paul Koteka was ordered from the field late in the first half, thus reducing the defenders to 14 men. But at this stage, the Lions’ pack was already dominant and Wellington was ahead 12-0. They scored another try to be 18-0 at halftime and the game was in the bag.

This was Wellington’s ninth straight win in the 1981 NPC and was the icing on the cake after they had already sealed the title with their 31-6 win the week before against Canterbury. The Lions returned to Athletic Park to host Counties on the Saturday and lost 9-15.

“After winning the Shield on Wednesday, we then had to try and build ourselves up for the final game of the season against Counties,” said Hewson. “With nothing riding on that game this match was just a brief interlude in the celebrations.”

A backdrop for that season was the 1981 Springboks tour.

Barely two weeks before, on 12 September, Hewson had kicked the match and series winning last-gasp penalty for the All Blacks to beat South Africa in the infamous flour bomb Test at Eden Park. That was part of a 19-Test All Black career that saw him score 201 international points and score a then world record 26 points against the Wallabies at Eden Park in 1982. He also scored two tries against Scotland in just his second Test in 1981 and up until that stage just five tries had ever been scored from fullback for New Zealand in Tests.

In 1981, Hewson was in his third season with the All Blacks and fifth with Wellington, who were coached right up to his last full year in 1985 by his Petone club coach Ian Upston. 1981 was also his second NPC triumph with Wellington after playing at centre in Wellington’s first title winning season in 1978.

“I started out on the wing for Wellington, and then went to centre and then fullback. I played at centre for Wellington in 1978 and Brian Cederwall [who played 102 games for Wellington between 1973-83] was fullback. Then I moved to fullback in 1979 and played there until moving in to first five-eighth at the end of my career. I’ve played in most positions in the backline except for halfback!”

By the mid-1980s most of the players in the 1981 Wellington team had either retired or were in the twilight of their careers. Wellington remained strong for a couple of years, and in 1988 beat Waikato 55-18, with fullback John Gallagher kicking six conversions and 27 points in the 37-point win.

but by the late 1980s a decade of under-achievement set in before they won the title in 2000 again. They haven’t won it since but made the final on several occasions and fans were left to rue several close seasons such as in 2004, 2008 and 2013.

Wellington and Waikato met for the first time in 1923, again in 1929 and they then didn’t play each other again until meeting annually between 1952-1975, and again at least once every year from 1981 except in 1986.

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