- By Steven White
Hugo Plummer was one of the Wellington Lions’ biggest fans growing up and now he is one with a bright future.
“I was a massive fan of the Lions when I was a kid. I remember when they won the Ranfurly Shield last time . I got up and close with it and get involved as a young supporter,” he recalled to Club Rugby this week.
“I made my own cardboard Ranfurly Shield, and I had my own Rugby Almanack and I pinned out all the unions and I stuck them on my version.”
The Lions are back at home this Sunday to host North Harbour at Porirua Park in the eighth round of the NPC and in a Ranfurly Shield defence.
Lions lock Plummer said the team is looking forward to the challenge of returning home after two consecutive away matches and to try and extend the team’s unbeaten streak to 21 matches overall and a record 19 straight NPC competition wins.
But most of all for the hometown support and to engage the young fans, who gain free entry this Sunday.
“It’s quite exciting to be out at Porirua Park this weekend. We went and did some school visits earlier this week in Porirua and all the kids were excited to see us and hopefully they come on Sunday as well.
Plummer made his Lions debut off the bench last year against Southland and has since been involved in the squad for every match this season including the first two against Horowhenua-Kapiti and South Canterbury. He has yet to taste defeat playing for Wellington.
“Playing for the Ranfurly Shield makes the game more exciting because you have got two teams coming in and you have got to put everything on the line. In terms of preparation, I tend to not have that weigh on my mind too much. I just want to do my job and do it properly and forget about everything else.”
Plummer also said playing with more experienced guys is a huge help, such as with fellow lock Dominic Bird and loose forward Brad Shields.
“They bring a wealth of knowledge to the team, and they are keen to pass on what they have learnt Especially with Birdy, he just knows so much, about when you should run a certain formation or how to defend against certain teams. He drops quite a few little golden nuggets along the way and it is invaluable.”
A noticeable part of the Lions game and a reason for them continuing to win is the driving and mauling play of the forwards, which has improved considerably over the course of the winning streak.
“It is still a work in progress, there have been moments this season that have been really good. But our forwards coaches Greg Halford and Alando Soakai are really pushing us to keep improving out lineout and driving play.”
After playing once for the Lions last year, Plummer also made his Hurricanes debut in one match earlier this season. He came off the bench for 10-15 minutes in the 45-42 win over the Force in Palmerston North.
“I was in the right place at the right time! I had only been training with the Hurricanes for a week or so but a few injuries gave me the chance. I think they recognised in me that I am someone who is quite quick to learn. It was a good exposure to the next level of rugby. That and game for the Lions last year opened my eyes to how quick the game can get and how technical it can be.”
The following Saturday he was back at Lyndhurst Park playing for Tawa.
Plummer now has five straight years of experience playing Premier club rugby for Tawa, since his debut first year out of school at Onslow College at the start of 2019. According to this website’s records he has played 68 matches for Tawa and he has won a Jubilee Cup in 2021.
A club rugby highlight thus far was off the field.
“Without a doubt was getting my blazer for my 30th Premier game and facing the boys doing the haka back to me in the clubrooms – that was the best feeling I have had from club rugby.”
Plummer also looks back fondly on his days as a Wests Junior.
“Growing up, we were into our grassroots rugby. My dad used to be my coach, and we would also go from our Junior game to watch the Wests Roosters Premiers where I was always the ballboy. If there was a game on that night at the Stadium we were off there too – that was a pretty standard Saturday.”
Plummer is proud of carrying the torch for Onslow College, a non-traditional pathway school to top level rugby.
“I think some of those principles you get at the bigger rugby schools still apply. I was so proud to wear the First XV jersey because it felt like I was representing my school, regardless of what division we were in” [they were bottom of Premier 2 in his last year in 2018].
“I got to play with my older brother in my first year in the team and that was one of my best moments of my rugby career so far. I was actually a first-five up to year 10. Then I went through a growth spurt over summer and got talker but remained skinny. Nevertheless, my brother, also a lock, taught me how to play there and it all started from there.”
Plummer isn’t the only player from a non- First XV Premiership school in the Lions. Shields went to Taita College, prop PJ Sheck attended Porirua College
He played some age-grade teams all the way through, from Williment Week in U16s, Wellington U18s (captaining the then Wellington Community U18s), Wellington U19s and Hurricanes U20s. Last year he played for the Wellington Centurions Development team (again as captain).
With the Wests Roosters Premiers folding, the move to Tawa, another suburban club, after finishing school was a logical choice. Tawa welcomed him with open arms and he has been a regular Premier player since day one and was starting lock when they beat MSP in the 2021 Jubilee Cup final.
Outside of rugby, Plummer is a fifth-year law student at Victoria University, with a few papers left to graduate. For now, rugby is taking precedence so he’s unsure on a timeline to finish and what exactly he will do with it in the future.
North Harbour Ranfurly Shield History
Points For: 510
Points Against: 664
The first Battle of the Bridge was also North Harbour’s first challenge for the Ranfurly Shield on July 16, 1986. A Harbour team who had easily won promotion from third division in their first season took it to one of the greatest provincial sides of all time in front of 35,000 at Eden Park. Harbour led 3-0 at halftime courtesy of a Frano Botica but Grant Fox took control in the second spell, kicking for the corners, while Andy Haden was dominant in the lineout as North Harbour was eventually foiled 18-6. Fox ended with 13 points and David Kirk scored Auckland’s solitary try.
In 1996 North Harbour challenged for the Ranfurly Shield three times within six weeks. Harbour was beaten 13-11 by Taranaki who were then beaten by Waikato in their next defence, and as luck would have it Waikato’s next home game (and automatic defence) was against Harbour. Once more Harbour came up just short, going down 17–14 in Hamilton. Almost unbelievably they were given a third crack at the Log when Auckland defeated Waikato. Auckland won convincingly, 69–27. Brian ‘Chiropractor’ Lima and James Kerr both scored three tries each with Adrian Cashmore contributing 24 points.
On September 24, 2006, North Harbour won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time when they upset Canterbury 21-17 at Lancaster Park (then known as Jade Stadium) in Christchurch. It was Harbour’s 15th challenge for the Shield and first success despite being outmuscled in the scrums and left to survive on scraps of possession for most of the game. Viliame Waqaseduadua scored two intercept tries for Harbour and captain Rua Tipoki snatched an errant Caleb Ralph pass. North Harbour prop, and current CEO, Adrian Donald had thrown an intercept for a try earlier in the contest. Tipoki also lifted the Shield as Bay of Plenty skipper against Auckland in 2004. Canterbury captain Corey Flynn complained afterward, “It’s about time we gave ourselves a kick up the arse.” In 2007 North Harbour resisted challenges from Thames Valley (69-0), Horowhenua Kapiti (99-6), and Taranaki (19-13) before losing to Waikato (7-52) on August 25, 2007.
Jack McPhee holds the record for most points in a Ranfurly Shield match for North Harbour with 27 (3 tries, 6 conversions) against Horowhenua Kapiti in 2007.
North Harbour last challenged for the Ranfurly Shield on August 27, 2022, and was beaten 25-23 by Hawke’s Bay in Napier. Despite a Tevita Li (65 games, 49 tries) hat-trick, Harbour succumbed when gun fullback Shuan Stevenson was yellow carded in the 74th minute for slowing the ball down and Hawke’s Bay set up their renowned rolling maul with hooker Kianu Kerru-Symes rumbling over for a try, converted from the sideline by Lincoln McClutchie.