The growth of provincial rugby in New Zealand
The ‘father of New Zealand rugby’
Charles Monro is credited with introducing rugby to New Zealand. Born near Nelson, he was sent to Christ’s College at Finchley in England, where he played the version of football associated with Rugby School. When he returned to Nelson, Monro suggested that the local football club give Rugby rules a go. Nelson College also adopted the game and the two teams met in New Zealand’s first rugby match at the Botanical Reserve on Saturday 14 May 1870. The club side won 2–0. Monro visited Wellington later that year and a game between Nelson and Wellington was arranged on 12 September. Nelson won this match 2–1.
Over the next few years rugby clubs sprang up across the colony. In 1879 provincial unions were formed in Canterbury and Wellington to administer rugby at a regional level. A number of other unions emerged over the next decade. In 1892 a New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was formed to standardise the game around the country. Its foundation members were Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Marlborough, Nelson, South Canterbury, Taranaki, Wairarapa, Wanganui and Wellington. The three major South Island provincial unions – Canterbury, Otago and Southland – initially stayed out of the NZRFU. Internal politics have sometimes been as important in the history of rugby in this country as the actual playing of the game.
By 1895 Canterbury, Otago and Southland had affiliated with the central union and the Bush, Horowhenua, Poverty Bay and West Coast unions had also joined. Other unions were created over time – some splitting off from parent unions that had got too large – and some smaller unions amalgamated. In 2015 there are 26 provincial unions, 17 of them in the North Island, where more than three-quarters of the country’s population live.
Timeline of provincial unions
- 1879: Canterbury, Wellington
- 1881: Otago
- 1883: Auckland
- 1884: Hawke’s Bay
- 1885: Nelson, Taranaki
- 1886: Manawatu, Wairarapa
- 1887: Southland
- 1888: Marlborough, South Canterbury, Wanganui
- 1890: Bush, Poverty Bay, West Coast
- 1893: Horowhenua (name changed to Horowhenua-Kapiti in 1997)
- 1894: Buller
- 1904: Mid Canterbury (named Ashburton until granted full union status as Ashburton County in 1927; name changed to Mid-Canterbury in 1952), North Otago
- 1911: Bay of Plenty
- 1920: North Auckland (name changed to Northland in 1994), Golden Bay-Motueka
- 1921: Waikato
- 1922: Thames Valley, King Country, East Coast
- 1955: Counties (name changed to Counties-Manukau in 1996)
- 1969: Nelson Bays (amalgamation of Nelson and Golden Bay-Motueka)
- 1971: Wairarapa Bush (amalgamation of Wairarapa and Bush)
- 1985: North Harbour
- 2006: Tasman (amalgamation of Marlborough and Nelson Bays)
Scoring over the years
The value of tries* and kicks has changed over the century and a half rugby has been played in New Zealand. Since 1978 it has not been permissible to drop-kick a goal after taking a mark (catching a ball punted by an opponent with one foot grounded).
* In the early days the game was all about kicking. Grounding the ball behind your opponents’ goal line was rewarded with the opportunity to ‘try’ to kick the ball between their goalposts.