IF YOU ask Waikato assistant coach Scott McLeod he'll tell you it's simply a case of embellishment.
That is, all the innuendo about parochial Mooloo fans creating a din with cow bells outside the opposition team's hotel in Hamilton the night before a crucial game.
"That never happens. Eh? Come on, it never happens," the jovial 39-year-old Highlanders-bound Super Rugby assistant coach says before today's 5.35pm Ranfurly Shield kick-off against the Hawke's Bay Magpies at Waikato Stadium in the penultimate round of the ITM Cup rugby competition.
"Waikato people are just very passionate followers."
Having wrenched the Log of Wood from Taranaki a fortnight ago, it goes without saying the hosts have no intention of letting it go in what has been up until then a pretty mediocre season from the superfranchise-based union who have failed to make the premiership semifinals starting on Friday next week.
"We have failed in that aspect so you can say we've come a very close second in that race," he says of lifting the symbol of knockout rugby supremacy at the holders' home turf in an age-old tradition that dates back to 1904.
Waikato are going into their 90th shield match today, having won it 54 times in a time spanning from 1937 to this year.
The Magpies are playing their 80th shield game today, having lifted the Log of Wood 50 times from 1905 to last year.
If anyone has any fanciful notions about how hard it'll be to prise the shield off the holders then they need not look any further from how Waikato captain Alex Bradley broke protocol to unceremoniously lift the shield before the opposition skipper Jason Eaton handed it to him at Yarrow Stadium last Wednesday night.
"We'd like to put it down to Alex being extremely eager and having lost his train of thought to get his hands on it because he'd been thinking about doing it for some time," Brisbane-born McLeod, who is a former All Black, says with a laugh.
"It's definitely not the thing to do but we'll forgive him."
He is mindful how desperate the visitors are of the double whammy - simply win and lift the shield - although they'll need Canterbury to beat the Bay of Plenty Steamers tomorrow to ensure the Magpies remain in the top echelon of the national provincial championship.
McLeod is resigned to the fact Waikato, who sit comfortably above BOP and Hawke's Bay in fifth place on 24 points, can't do much more for today's final fling, considering the short turnaround in this year's campaign.
They came from behind to beat high-flying championship neighbours Counties Manukau 32-28 at Pukekohe last Saturday.
"We're as prepared as we can be. It's much like the game against Taranaki.
"So the last 48 hours or so has been up to the boys to prepare physically and mentally before running at 5.35 on Saturday to negate Hawke's Bay's game," he says, ruing missing several players to injuries
and resting some, against Counties.
Needless to say McLeod and coach Chris Gibbes have immense respect for the Craig Philpott and Danny Lee-coached Magpies "who have a proud tradition and history".
"We've had some very close Ranfurly Shield challenges so we know what's coming and we're looking forward to it."
He isn't sure how the Waikato fan base will react to the Bay's Chiefs players but believes all that will add to an electric atmosphere.
Hawke's Bay Today sports reporter Shane Hurndell and chief photographer Warren Buckland will be in Hamilton to keep our fans in the loop for Monday's edition.