In his 2006 book, Provincial Giants, Paul Neazor selected the greatest season enjoyed by each of New Zealand’s rugby unions (including Nelson Bays and Marlborough, but not Tasman). The list makes interesting reading. Do you agree or disagree with Neazor? Fill out the Community Contribution form below (or email firstname.lastname@example.org) with your views and join the debate about your province’s best ever year.
Northland: 1950. The North Auckland side of 1950 beat Auckland home and away and won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time.
North Harbour: 1994. Canterbury were destroyed 59–27 to give Harbour a home NPC final against their big brother from over the bridge. Auckland won a hard-fought match 22–16, but Harbour had come from nothing to the big time in less than 10 years.
Auckland: 1988. Given Auckland’s phenomenal success, Neazor compared picking Auckland’s best year to choosing ‘the nicest Rolls-Royce in the showroom.’ Try 1988: 17 wins from 17 games, an NPC title, the Ranfurly Shield and the South Pacific Championship (a forerunner of the Super rugby competitions of the professional era).
Counties Manukau: 1979. Counties, the ‘thrill-a-minute boys for most of the 1970s’, finally lived up to their promise by winning the NPC. Their only defeat in the competition that year was a heart-breaking 11–9 loss to Auckland in a match that doubled as a challenge for the Ranfurly Shield. This trophy has continued to elude the union.
Waikato: 1951. In 1951 Waikato was regarded as something of a rugby backwater. That changed when 17-year-old Don Clarke kicked the winning goal against North Auckland to give Waikato the Ranfurly Shield for the first time.
Thames Valley: 1988. Though Thames Valley have a ‘humble place in New Zealand rugby’, their third division champion team of 1988 won all seven matches, scoring 284 points and conceding just 36.
Bay of Plenty: 2004. The Bay won the inaugural NPC title in 1976, but Neazor plumped for 2004, when the province finally broke its Ranfurly Shield hoodoo with a thrilling 33–28 victory over Auckland.
King Country: 1965. There was an epic shield challenge in 1969 and promotion to the first division in 1991, but the 1965 team won all 11 matches. Nine of this team played for the Wanganui–King Country side that ran the touring Springboks close, losing 24–19.
Taranaki: 1958. The 1958 side defended the Log o’ Wood nine times, capturing the hearts of locals. On average 19,000 fans turned up for each shield defence in a season that a commemorative publication called The fabulous winter.
East Coast: 2001. The Coast’s run to the second division final was the feel-good rugby story of 2001. The never-say-die attitude of the Coasters saw them almost pull off one of the great comebacks in the final against Hawke’s Bay.
Poverty Bay: 1987. The third division championship was won in style, with seven wins from seven matches. The Bay averaged nearly 40 points a game and Neazor described this selection as ‘not one of the more difficult’.
Hawke’s Bay: 1926. The 1926 Bay side ‘massacred powerful opponents in Shield matches, setting scoring records that lasted until the introduction of four-point tries nearly 50 years later’.
Wanganui: 1989. Winning all seven NPC matches by an average of 39 points to 10, the boys from the River City cruised to the third division title.
Manawatu: 1977. Though Manawatu won the NPC in 1980, Neazor chose the 1977 side which ended the season with seven defences of the Ranfurly Shield in 39 days.
Horowhenua-Kapiti: 1993. A third division title and the introduction of the precocious talent of local schoolboy Carlos Spencer to New Zealand rugby – not a bad way to celebrate the small union’s centenary.
Wairarapa-Bush: 1981. The Brian Lochore-coached side gained promotion to the first division by winning all nine NPC second division matches as well as tipping over first division sides Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough.
Wellington: 1920. Wellington put the Ranfurly Shield on the line home and away. This was not just a case of ‘taking it to the provinces’: the shield was defended in Auckland and Otago before being lost in Southland in the 11th challenge of the season.
Nelson Bays: 1999. Warren Johnston’s last-gasp penalty gave his side a 14–13 victory over Bay of Plenty in the NPC second division final.
Marlborough: 1973. A lay-down misère. One of the greatest upsets in Ranfurly Shield history against Canterbury was followed by five successful defences. The Red Devils clocked up twelve wins, one loss and one draw.
Buller: 1949. Buller lost only once in a season that saw them come agonisingly close to winning the Ranfurly Shield from Otago, drawing a dramatic challenge 6-all.
West Coast: 1999. After years of struggling at the bottom of the NPC, West Coast made it to the third division semi-finals, only to lose to Poverty Bay.
Canterbury: 1983. As with Auckland, choosing Canterbury’s best-ever season is a tough ask. They were without peer in 1983, winning all 18 domestic games and the Ranfurly Shield–NPC championship double.
Mid Canterbury: 1980. Unbeaten in the division two (South) championship, Mid Canterbury were defeated in the playoff by their northern counterparts, Waikato.
South Canterbury: 1961. Though South Canterbury has won the Ranfurly Shield twice, Neazor chose this season – mainly because of a controversial win over the touring French.
North Otago: 2002. After averaging one win a season in the first 21 years of the NPC, the Old Golds came right in their 75th jubilee year. Eleven wins from eleven games gave them the NPC third division title.
Otago: 1948. Otago set the benchmark for New Zealand rugby in the years following the Second World War. Among the 1948 team’s seven convincing Ranfurly Shield victories, Southland were dispatched 25–0 and Canterbury 31–0.
Southland: 1939. As well as four successful shield defences, Southland won its first – and so far only – victory over Auckland in Auckland.