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Image: Tina Tiller
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SportsOctober 4, 2023

A brief history of trophy desecration in New Zealand sport

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

How do you work so hard for something, only to break or lose it? Quite easily, if history is anything to go by.

 The Ranfurly Shield is currently in two pieces and might not make it past the airport sniffer dog – but the now-infamous actions of the Hawke’s Bay men’s rugby team are far from the first time a sporting trophy has been mistreated in this country. The Shield alone could probably fill a column cataloguing the abuse it’s suffered in its 119-year (mostly pre-Snapchat) lifespan. But many other trophies that were earned through blood, sweat and tears have met similar fates.

 This isn’t a just a local phenomenon, either. Special mention firstly to French rugby’s Bouclier de Brennus, which has been used as a skateboard, surfboard and slip ‘n slide target. Then there’s American tenpin bowler Pete Weber, who memorably dropped the PBA US Open trophy after a chaotic presentation in 1991. Amazingly, that’s not even the most viral moment Weber is famous for.

Aotearoa does, however, have a long history of trophy damage. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights.

The America’s Cup 

Probably the most high-profile trophy damage in New Zealand history. While it wasn’t damaged by any of the boat’s actual crew, Peter Montgomery did famously say that “the America’s Cup is now New Zealand’s Cup” – and it was a New Zealander who attacked it with a sledgehammer. In 1997, protestor Benjamin Nathan, now known as Moemoea Mohoawhenua, bashed up sport’s oldest trophy at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron headquarters so badly it had to be flown to London for repairs. He claimed the cup “represented everything he despised” and was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for his actions.

John Heise, Commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron (left) and Richard Javis, Managing Director of Garrard & Co, the cup’s restorer, with the damaged America’s Cup. (Photo: Michael Stephens – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa

The Crusaders had the honour of lifting the Tū Kōtahi Aotearoa trophy for the first time ever after Super Rugby made its triumphant return out of lockdown in 2020. The trophy was the hard work of Ōtaki carver Bill Doyle and represented the healing power that rugby undeniably possessed in the wake of the disruption and turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. But the Crusaders only had it in their possession for one night before it was broken. Rumours swirled that it had been used as a doorstop and had to be retrieved by cleaners, but these have been denied by the team, who claimed that it was all a misunderstanding. 

Fox Memorial Shield

Not quite the massive damage that Ranfurly Shield sustained but still on the same level of stupidity: in 2018, someone at Point Chevalier Pirates RLFC decided to film themselves pouring beer and dropping a bottle on Auckland’s top club rugby league prize.

Loving Cup

This is more a case of abuse by neglect, as the Loving Cup – awarded to the winner of the annual North v South rugby match – was left in an Eden Park storage room and forgotten about for “at least 37 years”. There is a happy ending to the story though: it was found in 2020 and presented to the South when they won the first inter-island fixture in almost a decade. 

Springbok head

Waikato’s 1956 win over the visiting Springboks stands as one of the most iconic moments in the province’s rugby history. As the first midweek side to beat the tourists, they were gifted a mounted springbok head – but it was missing one of its antlers as it had been dropped in transit. The restored head still hangs at FMG Stadium Waikato in the supporter’s club lounge.

The springbok head gifted to Waikato in 1956 (Photo: Supplied)

Jubilee Cup

Marist St Pats won Wellington’s premier club rugby trophy in 2008 and then dropped it into Lake Taupō while on a celebratory postseason fishing trip. A police dive squad had to be called (at considerable cost) to go down and get the cup, which had fortunately landed on the edge of where the lake’s topography plunges sharply to a depth of around 150 metres. (This wasn’t the first time MSP had lost the Jubilee Cup – following the final in 2001 it was stolen by a group of enterprising U85kg players from the nearby Pōneke FC club. No damage was caused, other than to MSP’s pride when they were forced to retrieve it from Pōneke’s home ground the following morning.)

Ranfurly Shield

Hawke’s Bay’s day of infamy isn’t so much about breaking the Log of Wood, but really about filming and letting the public see just how they reacted to it in real time. It will now presumably be restored at considerable cost over a lengthy time period over the off season, which will mean Hawke’s Bay won’t be able to use it for any promotional opportunities. But the real kicker is that the repair work means the Shield will be going straight back to the province that Hawke’s Bay won it off: Wellington.

This story first appeared on RNZ.

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