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James Dwan – Ranfurly Shield Repair Man

The Lions running out to defend the ‘new’ Ranfurly Shield recently against Southland. Photo: Hugh Pretorius.

  • By Adam Julian 

When silversmith James Dwan received the Ranfurly Shield for restoration he said, “She’s had a hard life. There’s a lot that’s happened to it, on it, around it.”

Who was the All Black that made love on top of it?

“At least a couple I’ve heard,” Dwan laughed.

The old Shield, which had gradually become worn down by 118 years of handling and an untold number of celebrations, has been blessed and decommissioned by NZ Rugby Māori cultural adviser Luke Crawford, recognising its status as a taonga in rugby.

Dwan is the man who repairs and sometimes designs trophies for New Zealand Rugby. The Bledisloe Cup, Tri-Nations Cup, and even the William Webb Ellis Trophy he’s handled, all, and bleeds rugby.

“I remember the days they used to give out free tickets for matches at Athletic Park. We were told not to sit down on the grass because people would piss down the hill in the absence of bathrooms,” Dewan cheekily reminisced.

“I played a bit of rugby at Tawa College, but I wasn’t big enough or good enough to make it.

“My favourite player is Ma’a Nonu. He was a dynamite player. You’d read comments from overseas opponents, and they’d all say Nonu was the best. I know the Cullen family well. Wasn’t Christian superb? I admired Don Clarke back in the day.”

Dwan went to England in the early 70s and started as a Silversmith in 1975. When he returned to the capital, he worked for Betteridge Limited in Rongotai before going out on his own.

Dwan was unable to disclose how much restoring the Ranfurly Shield cost, but he did explain the process of recreating the prestigious trophy.

Using English Oak – seasoned for five years – the new Ranfurly Shield was constructed to the same dimensions as the original, but the wood was thickened to 40 mms as opposed to the previous 18 mms.

The original badges on the Shield – replaced by Dewan in 2012 – were reunited with the decommissioned wood, with newer badges made of sterling silver applied.

The centre piece which features the iconic imagery of a rugby match hasn’t been changed. The metal copper the imagery is made of could only be extradited from metal stretching back to the 19th century. That part of the Shield is hollow with little supporting it. However, the Shield itself weighs around 12kg and is far sturdier than what it was.

The new Ranfulry Shield up close.

In the 90s Canterbury lock Chris England (104 games, 1988-1996) dismantled it, took off its miniatures, removed its badly dented centrepiece, glued the split centre of the piece of oak, re-bored a couple of pieces, polished everything up and then put it back together.

England, a woodturner by trade, was commissioned by the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North to make an exact replica of the shield.

Dwan explained when Auckland had the Ranfurly Shield between 1985 and 1993, Peter Fatialofa was its assigned guardian until he retired. Treating the Shield with greater respect would improve its prospects for longer-term survival. He says the Wellington Lions have been largely responsible in their current tenure.

In 1902 Auckland became the first holder of the Shield because in that year it had the best record of any Provincial Union (the blue and whites were unbeaten that year). In 1904 the first challenge was held, and Wellington became the first side to win a Shield challenge beating Auckland 6-3 on August 6.

The Earl of Ranfurly, who donated the Shield, was the Patron of the then-New Zealand Rugby Football Union and Governor of New Zealand. The original prize was to be a cup but on its unveiling was discovered to be a shield, with a centrepiece showing an association football match which was altered.

P.S. Luke Crawford was a former police officer. He told Stuff he helped give the Shield a police escort to Waikato in 1993 when the Mooloos took it off Auckland to end Auckland’s eight-year, 61-game tenure with the Log.

“We picked it up at Ngāruawāhia, and people were lined up. Ngāruawāhia is a rugby league town, but there were people lining up at the side of the road cheering…There are certain parts of rugby that actually have a status that is bigger than rugby itself,” he said.

Was Crawford privy to one of the great (alleged) Ranfurly Shield stories? On the same bus trip south, the Waikato team, merrily drunk, pulled up at a fruit & vegetable shop to sober up. Instead, a right royal food fight erupted. When Captain John Mitchell was hit in the head point blank by a cabbage, cabbage became his nickname.

Did you Know? Dwan met Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali in Sydney in 1979. “It was a speaking do at a hotel my wife and I were staying at. He randomly came out into the foyer, and my wife and I were standing there, the only ones, looking at Muhammad Ali. Dumbfounded we asked for a picture before his entourage came. It was a moment in time for sure.”

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