If all goes to plan, there could be just a hint of divided loyalties when the Port Taranaki Bulls take on Manawatu at Yarrow Stadium in September.
The draw for the 2016 national provincial championship, now known as the Mitre 10 Cup, was released earlier this year, with Taranaki to play five regular season home games.
But there could be something extra on the line against Manawatu on 24 September – the Ranfurly Shield.
Providing shield holders Waikato retain the famous Log o’ Wood through the first two rounds of the competition, Taranaki will have a shield challenge in Hamilton on 18 September.
A Taranaki victory would mean their first shield defence would be against Manawatu – a union with which Port Taranaki Chief Executive Guy Roper has a strong affiliation.
A talented rugby player, Guy studied at Massey University from 1975-79 and, while there, was selected to play for Manawatu as a second five-eighth and centre.
“I had four games for Manawatu [scoring three tries] during their golden era of holding the Ranfurly Shield [1976-78] – although I didn’t play in a shield game.”
Rugby is in the blood of the Roper family, with Guy’s father Roy playing five tests for the All Blacks in 1949-50, including all four matches at centre against the British Lions in 1950. As New Zealand’s rugby bible Men In Black states, Roy was one of the standouts of the series, scoring two tries as New Zealand won three tests and drew the other.
“It would be fantastic for Taranaki to play Manawatu in a Ranfurly Shield challenge – two unions which both have proud rugby histories and have had tremendous tenures as shield holders,” Guy says. “But divided loyalties? I’m not sure about that!”
With a strong family connection to rugby, Guy was delighted to take over the reins of Port Taranaki during the company’s time as the principal sponsor of the Taranaki Bulls. The sponsorship arrangement with the Taranaki Rugby Football Union was put in place during Roy Weaver’s tenure as CEO.
“We are thrilled to maintain the connection with the Taranaki community through sponsoring the team. They backed up their 2014 title win by reaching the semifinals last season and we look forward to another successful season this year,” Guy says.
The Port Taranaki Bulls’ home NPC season kicks off against Hawke’s Bay on 27 August, followed by a match against Southland on 8 September. After the game against Manawatu, Taranaki have a potential marquee match against Canterbury on 2 October. The final home game of the regular season is against Auckland on 13 October.