- By Steven White
Wellington Lions lock Dominic Bird has Magpies blood in his veins, but he will be giving it his all to help the Wellington Lions stave off Hawke’s Bay’s challenge in their seventh and final challenge of the year (eighth overall in this tenure) on Saturday afternoon.
“For us, this weekend against Hawke’s Bay is another huge game and we know we are going to have to lift again,” Bird told Club Rugby this week. “We know they are going to come with a real intensity and be hungry, so we are going to have to turn the dial up higher than them if we want to stay unbeaten and defend the Ranfurly Shield.”
Bird is one of the most experienced Ranfurly Shield players currently in the NPC.
If selected to play, Saturday’s match against Hawke’s Bay will be his 15th first-class match with the famous Log ‘o Wood on the line. This includes in seven of his 53 games for Canterbury and come Saturday eight in 28 games for Wellington (he didn’t play in the defence against Southland).
“Playing for the Ranfurly Shield is a massive privilege and honour,” he explained. It is an item of rugby history that is much bigger than any individual and the mana and energy it carries is massive.”
Watch the interview live at 7.00pm Thursday or on replay at the Huddy Hui – in their 100th episode.
Bird grew up near Waipukurau and played his junior rugby there under the tutelage of 82-game Magpies lock father John Bird, before leaving Central Hawke’s Bay College and finding his way to Canterbury where he played about 50 club matches for Lincoln University and then moved through the representative ranks all the way to the All Blacks in two tests in 2013-14.
Bird senior also captained Hawke’s Bay and was a regular Magpies lock/No. 8 between 1982-89, so he might have a foot in both camps on Saturday?
“It’s always a tricky one who to support for the old man being a staunch Hawke’s Bay man, but he is proud of me and always follows my games closely.” Father John also has another Wellington connection – having attended St Pat’s Silverstream and played for the First XV in 1978-79.
Sporting success runs through the Bird family, younger sister Ellie played 99 games as a shooter for the Tactix netball franchise and has recently returned home from a stint playing in the north of England.
Since arriving in Wellington, following a stint in France playing for Racing 92, Dominic Bird has a been a big asset in more ways than one.
Being the tallest ever All Black at 2.06m, his bulk and height has been a big contributing factor in the turnaround of the Lions pack to one of the best in the country.
As a comparison, some noted lineout forwards to have played for the All Blacks and Wellington include Arthur Wilson (1.91m), Nev MacEwan (1.92m), Murray Pierce (1.98m), Dion Waller (1.98m) and Jeremy Thrush (1.98m).
Also, with his guidance in helping the young players coming through the ranks, such as Hugo Plummer who we profiled in this space last week.
Bird said that the Lions’ set piece is an area himself and these players have been working hard on over the past two seasons.
“You want to have all the strings to your bow. We can be an exciting and flash team but you have got to be able to the basics well and win the pressure plays as well and vary the attack. It is something we have been working on and we have got a bit of pride in our maul.”
The lineout drive was a strength of the Magpies last season and saw them almost retain the Shield against the Lions at the end of last year’s successful challenge. The Lions led 19-12, but the Magpies went close to scoring in the corner at the death, and the conversion would have been enough for them to hold on to it.
On Sunday, the Lions beat North Harbour 26-6, but the run of play was a lot closer than than the 20-point winning margin suggested, which he agreed.
“We weren’t underestimating them at all, we knew they were going to be a quality side and they showed that as expected.
The Lions had the use of a moderate wind in the first half and scored two tries to lead 14-6 at halftime. Second-five Peter Umaga-Jensen put in a stab kick for centre Billy Proctor to run on to and score off and it was 19-6, but it remained close.
“We kept them from scoring, and they committed a forward pass on our line and that was a big moment. It took us a while to really break them, but we got there in the end.”
The winning try with about 10 minutes to play was scored by fullback Ruben Love, running off the shoulder of first five Aidan Morgan in broken play.
Bird spent several years in Canterbury, moving down south and joining the Academy and playing for Lincoln University.
As well as Canterbury, he went on to play for the Crusaders and then the Chiefs before moving to France for a couple of seasons and based in Paris.
“The buzz and energy over there around the Rugby World Cup will be big at the moment. They are very passionate supporters and they will be fizzed for it.”
Returning home and making his debut for his third Super Rugby franchise, the Hurricanes, donning the yellow jersey wasn’t an unfamiliar experience. In 2008 he played for the Hurricanes U18s in the then ‘Barbarians Cup’ competition against other Super
As for the future, All Black #1127 Bird has no firm plans for his next moves. One gets the impression that the 32-year-old has plenty more to offer the game before he hangs up his boots.
Bid for 10 tickets plus hospitality for the match on Saturday that kicks off on Saturday at 2.05pm through the Centurions’ Trade Me auction HERE