Queenstowner Michael Collins has etched his place in the annals of Otago rugby.
Collins, 20, played centre on Friday night in the team’s first successful Ranfurly Shield challenge in 56 years.
Otago survived a nail-biting finish in Hamilton to beat Waikato 26-19 – a victory made sweeter by the team’s past 22 failed Shield challenges.
Collins says the game was probably more nerve-racking for Otago supporters watching on TV than it was for the team.
“I guess when you’re playing you kind of just think about what you’re doing, you probably don’t think about the bigger picture as much.
“I guess probably watching it on TV was harder because you didn’t have control over it.
“Those kind of close games are what you play footy for.”
Collins pays tribute to coach Tony Brown’s low-key build-up to the Shield challenge.
“I think Browny did a real good job of not building it up, of finding the right balance between getting excited for it and not stuffing with your head.
“After we won it, you kind of realised, being younger, how much it meant to so many more people than before we played for it.
“I probably didn’t really understand the whole idea of it before but I think I do now.”
Collins, who’s in his second year playing for Otago, says it’s important the team now defends the Shield.
“It will be a far better feeling if we defend it instead of losing it again.”
For now, though, the Waikato game is the highlight of his career so far.
In June, Collins played for the New Zealand under-20 side in the junior world championship in France.
Afterwards he was named centre in a ‘team of the tournament’ by British website The Rugby Blog.