Old New Zealand

...Representative Rugby...

At 3 p.m. on Wednesday, September 22, 1875 at Dunedin's Southern Recreational Ground Oval, two teams took the field in what can be considered New Zealand's first provincial match. The visitors were an Auckland clubs side and this would be the first match of a national tour. Their opponents were a Dunedin clubs side who ran out winners by 9 and a half points to a half a point.*

The tourists played four more matches against the Wellington, Christchurch, Nelson and Picton, and Taranaki clubs teams losing all and were roundly criticized on their return to Auckland also losing to an All Comers side by One and a half to 21 and a half. Local newspapers complained that better players had been left at home.

In 1876 a Canterbury side toured losing to Auckland (3-7) and winning games against Nelson Clubs (12-0) and Wellington and Wairarapa (18.5-1). A game against Taranaki had to be abandoned as the tourists could not land there in rough weather.

A combined Dunedin team toured in August 1877 winning games against Christchurch Clubs (4-0), Nelson Clubs (46-0), Wellington Clubs (18-0), Temuka Club (2-0) and South Canterbury Club (4-0). The match against Auckland was a 0-0 draw. Again a match against Taranaki was abandoned. Players arrived a day late due to bad weather and offered to play a shortened game of one hour as they had an important match against Auckland coming up, but the local side wouldn't agree to less than two.

Below: The First Wellington Representative Team, July 1875

Wellington Representative Team 1875
l-r standing: G.F.C Campbell, P.P. Webb, J.C. Bishop, J.C.R. Isherwood, W.P.James, C.W. Palliser, W.R. Morris, A.B. Campbell, D.J. Stohr, J.G. Blackett, C. France, A. Bishop, G. Bishop, sitting: R.G. Park (captain)

First Provincial Rugby Unions

Canterbury Rugby Football Union was formed in July 1879 and claims to be the oldest Rugby Football Union outside of the U.K.. The original clubs represented were Christchurch, Christ's College, Temuka, Ashburton, North Canterbury, South Canterbury, Southbridge and Eastern. The new union's fist match was a scoreless draw against Otago Clubs on August 23, 1879.

The Wellington union formed in October of the same year representing the Wellington, Wellington Athletic, Masterton, Carterton, Greytown, Palmerston North, Fielding and Wanganui clubs. Their first match was a 4-0 victory over the Auckland provincial side in September 1880.

The Otago union formed in 1881 following a meeting of delegates at Wain's Hotel on Saturday, March 26. Clubs represented were, Dunedin, Dunedin Union, Otago Boys High School, Dunedin Normal School, Dunedin Zingari, Dunedin Montrose, Montecillo, Orakanui College, Oamaru and Invercargill. Otago defeated Canterbury by one goal and one try to nil at Christchurch on August 27 1881 in New Zealand's first interunion rugby match. The 1882 Otago Representative team defeated the touring New South Wales team 9-0 at Mosgiel on Sept 23.

Below: The Otago Representatives, 1882

Otago Representatives 1882
l-r back row: R. W. Brown, J. Allan, Fowler, Nicol. middle row: Fox, W. Allen, H. Rose, J. Allen (captain), W. Wynks, Hamer, Jack Taiaroa. front row: Cranshaw, Chapman, Austin, J. Murray.

The Auckland union was formed on April 28, 1883 from the Auckland, Ponsonby, Grafton and North Shore clubs. They won their first match as a union against Canterbury at Christchurch by 4-1 on August 25, 1883.

The Hawke's Bay union formed on May 3, 1884 comprising the Napier, Napier Union, Petane and Hastings clubs. They defeated a Poverty Bay XV 9-0 on July 18, 1885 and lost their first interunion match against Wellington (0-4) at Wellington a month later.

Nelson's union formed on June 12, 1885 representing the Nelson, Prince Albert, Nelson Star and Nelson College clubs. After not scoring a single point for three seasons the Nelson union finally notched up a win against Marlborough in 1889.

Other unions quickly followed. Some like Wairarapa (1886) and Southland (1887) separated from larger unions feeling they had enough players and clubs to form their own. Wairarapa RFU represented the Masterton, Carterton and Greytown clubs. Manawatu (1886) represented clubs from Palmerston North, Foxton and Fielding. in 1888 four new unions were formed; South Canterbury, Wanganui, Marlborough and Thames.

More Unions form: Taranaki (1889), Bush (1890), Poverty Bay (1890), West Coast (1890), Horowhenua (1893), Buller (1894). So many unions had now formed that many felt a national body was required to regulate and standardize fixtures and so the New Zealand Rugby Football Union was formed on April 16, 1892. Initially sceptical about control being asserted by the north, the major South Island unions; Canterbury, Southland and Otago, didn't join until a few seasons later.

Representative Competitions

Perhaps the most coveted prize in New Zealand domestic rugby is the Ranfurly Shield a.k.a. "The log of wood". Unlike other tournaments the shield played on a challenge basis with the holder defending each time they play on their home ground. The shield was given to the NZRFU in 1901 by the Earl of Ranfurly, then governor of New Zealand. The province of Auckland was declared the first winner of the shield after playing an unbeaten season in 1902. more...

The National Provincial Championship kicked off in 1976 and Bay of Plenty were the first winners. Initially the Championship consisted of a First Division and two Second Divisions (North and South). The format has changed from time to time with a Third Division added in 1985. From the 2016 season the First Division became the Mitre 10 Cup and the lower division is called the Mitre 10 Heartland Championship.

Super Rugby began in 1996 with the Super 12 including teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It was expanded to 14 teams for the 2006 season, 15 in 2011 and currently 18 teams with the inclusion of an Argentine and a Japanese side.