Hawke's Bay Magpies rugby prop Adrian Barone reminds one of a pocket battleship who relishes war against bigger opposition.
The 110kg former Wellington and Manawatu loosehead had an impressive first-class debut for the Magpies in last week's win against Counties-Manukau despite scrummaging against a bloke 16kg heavier in Matt Talaese. Barone (pronounced Ba-ronnie ... his father is Italian but Barone was born in Wellington) will be operating in similar circumstances in tonight's Ranfurly Shield challenge against Taranaki at New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium.
A builder with Atkin Construction, Barone will be propping against Hurricane Michael Bent who is 7kg heavier.
Those who know anything about frontrow play will tell you it's all about timing and technique when it comes to scrummaging.
Barone, 25, boasts those necessary attributes. The authority he displays is inspirational to his teammates.
"It was nice to retain my starting berth but it's important I build on last week's performance against Taranaki," Barone said before yesterday's Captain's Run at Napier's McLean Park.
"It's good to be given the opportunity here in the Bay ... I had a couple of years in the Wellington squad and never got a chance."
That's a chance against other ITM Cup unions. He did play in 2009 Ranfurly Shield defences against Wairarapa Bush and Wanganui.
He knows tonight's challenge, which doubles as an ITM Cup Premiership game for the Magpies, will be tougher. But he's confident they can do it. Barone is already preparing himself to ask his Wellington-based girlfriend if he can have another season here should the Magpies retain the shield for the summer.
"That will be another challenge," he said as a huge grin enveloped his face.
Barone boarded at Feilding Agricultural High School and represented Manawatu age-group teams as well as New Zealand Secondary Schools and New Zealand under-19s.
"I was in between Adam and Sam," Barone said, referring to the school's most famous rugby brothers from recent times, the Whitelocks of Crusaders fame.
He regards Kees Meeuws as the toughest prop he has marked. He had 20 minutes against him when on loan for Manawatu in a 2009 game against Otago.
It will be interesting to see if Meeuws has been replaced by Bent after tonight's clash, which is likely to be played in grotty weather conditions.
Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union board member and former Magpie Simon Tremain will present the Magpies with their jerseys. The Magpies won when he last had the role a couple of seasons ago.
"I will be telling the players they need to realise they will become part of history if they manage to take the shield ... they will become household names," Tremain, a son of one of the province's most famous shield players, the late Kel Tremain, said.
"This is a one-off opportunity ... the best opportunity we have had since I've been alive. The Magpies can win the shield ... they've got the skill. As long as they leave every bit of exhaustion out on the paddock they will do it," said Tremain, who also played for Otago and Wellington.
Tremain played in one shield challenge for the Magpies and a couple for Wellington against what he described as "an invincible Auckland side" of the early 1990s.
He agreed Taranaki first five-eighth Beauden Barrett's withdrawal would be a bigger boost to the Magpies than the extra day they had to prepare for a game which is expected to attract 15,000 fans. Barrett, who kicked 19 points for the Naki in their 29-11 Ranfurly Shield win against the Magpies last year, was called into the All Blacks for tomorrow night's test against Argentina after Daniel Carter suffered a calf injury.
James Marshall will start at first five-eighth for Taranaki and Jack Cameron, who was originally bracketed with him, joins halfback Brett Goodin as the hosts' only back reserves. Taranaki coach Colin Cooper has gone with a five forwards, two backs bench in anticipation of a gruelling forward struggle.
Tremain said he, his son and nephew, would be towing one of the Magpies mascots, "The Big Bird", to New Plymouth.
"It's awesome the Taranaki union has agreed to allow The Big Bird to be on the sidelines."
Kahu the Magpie, another Magpies mascot, won't make the trip as Paormake a Pohatu, or "The Big Mac Guy" as he is also known, only lends his support at home fixtures. However should the Magpies bring home the bacon, Kahu is likely to be among the first birds to greet them at Hawke's Bay Airport.
Their return with the shield would spark the sort of celebrations the province last experienced when it was based here in 1969.