- By Adam Julian
The last time Wellington held opponents try-less in consecutive games before 2022 was in 1999.
Caleb Delany wasn’t even born in 1999 but the blindside flanker has been an integral part of a new-found Lions fortress.
The Ranfurly Shield is safe for the summer following a 34-6 account of Waikato on Saturday. A week earlier Hawke’s Bay was stripped of the Log o’ Wood by similarly determined Wellington tackling.
“It’s a crazy stat,” Delany said
“We’ve put systems in place that everyone is buying into and getting good results.
“I won’t go into specifics as to how the defence is set up but it’s something we work hard on and is largely self driven.
“I’m not sure I realised how important the Ranfurly Shield is to the city and the people until we won it. I remember watching Southland win it off Canterbury as a kid and thinking this is pretty emotional but I didn’t really get it. The response has been crazy and gratifying. I guess it’s an elusive thing with the randomness of the draw.”
Tamati Ellison, assistant coach in the last two Crusaders Super Rugby championship successes, is Wellington’s defence coach. How influential has the former All Black second-five been?
“His knowledge and experience have added a lot, but robust defence is a collective thing.
“After we lost to Northland we were frustrated with our entire game. We knew it was only early in the season but there were some pretty honest conversations after that.”
From two losses in their first three games, the Lions have won six in a row for the first time since 2019 to top the Odds Pool with a round to play before the quarter-finals.
Delany, with eight starts from nine outings in 2022, passed 1,000 minutes in a Lions jersey on Saturday. Combined with Peter Lakai (the leading ball-carrier in the competition) and skipper Du Plessis Kirifi, Wellington has a settled and powerful backrow.
“My game is about working hard, hitting breakdowns, making tackles and winning and stealing lineouts. I’m happy to cover both lock and flanker.”
Delany arrived in the capital from Nelson in 2018 to study architecture at Victoria University. He has two papers left to complete his degree. He joined Old Boys University via the Jack Jeffs Rugby Scholarship and has played 34 games and scored 12 tries for the Billy Goats – a member of 2018 and 2020 Jubilee Cup winning teams.
The former New Zealand age group softball representative is a Hurricanes contracted player. In July he was picked for the Māori All Blacks and played a blinder off the bench in the second game of a two-match series against Ireland in Wellington.
“Making the Māori All Blacks was a real proud moment for my family and. I’m from Ngāti Tūwharetoa and learned so much about my whakapapa and Māori in that environment.
“I was supposed to be a lock replacement for that game in Wellington but when Reed Prinsep got injured early, I had to cover for him at blindside.
“Ireland was massive. They were very physical and clinical at the breakdown. They really contest that area hard and a little differently from New Zealand teams.”
Ireland won the match 30-24.
On May 27, 1995, Ireland stood no chance of beating the All Blacks at the World Cup. The legend of Jonah Lomu was born. The rookie wing ran riot scoring his first two test tries and setting up others for flanker Josh Kronfeld and second-five Walter Little in a mesmerizing 43-19 victory.
Lomu tragically passed away in November 2015 after an unparalleled career which included 28 games (19 tries) for Counties and 21 games (13 tries) for Wellington. In the 2000 NPC final Lomu scored twice as Wellington beat an All Blacks stacked Canterbury 34-29 in Christchurch.
Since 2016 the Lions and the Steelers have contested the Jonah Lomu Memorial Trophy. Counties have never won the game and host Wellington on Sunday. With a win the Lions can guarantee home field advantage for at least two playoff games.
“Everyone knows Jonah is the G.O.A.T. of rugby. His family comes to the game to support both teams so it’s really important we put on a good performance.
“We’re taking things one game at a time, but the last couple of weeks have been pretty special with these historic trophies.”
Delany bursting through to score a try for OBU against Tawa in 2021 – the day they won the Swindale Shield.