Win would be a boost for Auckland

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010    Getty Images

But All Blacks front-rower John Afoa believes the spiritual symbol of provincial pride, the Ranfurly Shield, can captivate the public again.

"Maybe not grab the whole one million but certainly the rugby community and the fans that come to Eden Park week in, week out. It would be a massive deal for them," Afoa said.

"It would bring a great buzz back to Auckland rugby that hasn't been there the last couple of years. You see what it's done for Southland and the community."

Everything about Thursday's Log o' Wood challenge points to a battle of willpower upfront. Showers, snow to low levels, on an already sodden Rugby Park, and cold gusty southwesterlies.

With those assumptions and 15,000 one-eyed southerners, plus recent history - Southland's courageous brick-wall 7-6 first win over Waikato - and you can see why the home side is warm favourites.

Experience and composure are vital in what should be a close-fought fascinating contest and that is something Afoa and fellow All Black Benson Stanley will provide.

"That's the key, you talk about experience and cool heads. The game's going to get tough. Either we'll be down by a few points or we'll have a narrow lead and we've got to make sure the guys have clear thoughts going through their heads and they know what they're doing," Afoa explains of how easily these matches are won or lost.

Having played predominately tighthead prop for the All Blacks, Afoa switches to the loose for Auckland - all while honing his hooking skill set.

His task is similar to that of Cory Jane's, who played on the wing when he was seen as a fullback, but it is far less glamorous. The 26-year-old often interchanges roles during a match without much acknowledgment of how tough the task really is.

"You've got to make sure that transition comes really quick. You can't wait two or three scrums or you'll get peeled," he said.

On Thursday, Afoa's biggest challenge won't be the conditions, or the positional shifts, but attempting to stop or get through stoic Stags hooker Jason Rutledge, who is in the form of his life at 32.

Auckland only needs to take one look at Rutledge's try-saving effort on opposite Aled de Malmanche last week to see what they are up against.

If Rutledge can be broken, so can Southland. But that's only happened once this year.