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. They obviously liked what they saw. Nelson College also adopted the game and they played the local club side in New Zealand’s first official 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. Nelson won this game 2–1 on 12 September.
Over the next few years rugby clubs sprang up across the colony. In 1879 the first provincial unions were formed in Canterbury and Wellington to administer and control the playing of rugby in their region. A number of other unions followed over the next decade or so. 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 resisted the central authority of the NZRFU. Internal politics have 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 2010 there were 26 provincial unions in New Zealand. The majority – 17 – are found in the North Island, which is home to more than three-quarters of the country’s population.
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 in rugby has changed several times over the history of the game. Provision for drop-kicking a goal after taking a mark was removed in 1978.
* The word ‘try’ goes back to the early days when the game was all about kicking – scoring under the posts gave you an opportunity to ‘try’ to kick the ball over them.