Otago ended 56 years of pain without the Log o'Wood when they defeated Waikato 26-19 in Hamilton on Friday night.
The battle was fitting of a Shield challenge and will go down in history as one of the best. After 65 minutes of play the scores were locked at 19-19 with both goal-kickers - Hayden Parker & Trent Renata - perfect on the night.
Parker scored a try, slotted four penalties and two conversions for a total of 21 points.
Otago played with enormous intensity and came up with the big plays when it counted. TJ Ioane’s match-winning try in the final quarter was one, but unsung heroes such as Liam Coltman and Tony Ensor deserve just as much praise.
The victory capped off a whirlwind week for Coltman, who spent the week training with the All Blacks, while the latter will have to hold back on celebrations while he nurses a dislocated shoulder.
After ending Waikato's run of two successful Shield defences, the men from Dunedin must now be favourites to win the ITM Cup championship.
Losing finalist against Counties Manukau last year, they have started 2013 with victories over two premiership teams – they beat Bay of Plenty last week - and sit atop their conference with nine points.
No doubt Forsyth Barr Stadium will be buzzing when they defend the Shield against Hawke’s Bay next Sunday.
Otago fans will be hoping Parker is able to back up his outstanding effort in the opening 40 minutes which gave the challengers a 16-13 lead at the break.
That had Waikato coaches John Walters and Carl Hoeft a little bemused after their side dominated possession and territory, and forced Otago to make double the amount of tackles.
The Mooloos looked like they would go into the break trailing by 10 points before Tim Mikkelson streaked over 30 metres to dot down shortly before the half-time siren.
The home fans were on their feet when fullback Trent Renata appeared to have stolen the lead shortly after, but upon TMO review a forward pass was found and referee Glen Jackson signalled that no try had been scored.
After the break Otago looked set to build on their lead but will rue a number of errors that halted their promising attacking plays just short of the goal line.
However, when Waikato were presented with their next opportunity, Renata did not flinch and locked the match up at 16-16 with his third penalty goal half an hour before time.
Four minutes later he nudged his side ahead with a brilliant shot at goal from near the left touch line. Parker then negated that with his own penalty seconds later to level the scores once more.
With their Shield hopes in the balance, Otago needed someone to step up and it was Ioane who came up with a clutch turnover at the breakdown before he scored a crucial try to give his side a seven-point lead.
With time expired, Waikato were given one last shot at a tie, which would have ensured they kept the Shield, but one last turnover allowed Parker the opportunity to boot the ball into touch.
Waikato: 19 (Tim Mikkelson try; Trent Renata con, 4 pens)
Otago: 26 (Hayden Parker, TJ Ioane tries; Hayden Parker 2, 4 pens)
HT: 16-13 Otago