Northland Rugby Union
|Nickname(s)||Taniwha, Cambridge Blues|
|Ground(s)||Okara Park, Whangarei (Capacity: 25,000)|
|2013 ITM Cup||6th Championship|
The Northland Rugby Football Union (NRFU) is the governing body of rugby union in the Northland region of New Zealand, including the northernmost part of the Auckland local government region. It was named the North Auckland Rugby Union from its founding in 1920 until 1994.
- 1 History
- 2 Ranfurly Shield
- 3 Representative rugby
- 4 Current squad
- 5 Sub-Unions
- 6 Clubs
- 7 Players and coaches of note
- 8 External links
- 9 References
Rugby was first played in Northland in the 1870s, and the first union was set up in the province in 1895, known as the Marsden Football Union. The Northland union was founded in 1920, as North Auckland Rugby Union. It formed when the Whangarei Rugby Union applied to the New Zealand Union to have the areas controlled by the Whangarei, Northern Wairoa, Bay of Islands, Otamatea and Hokianga sub-unions combined as a major union. This application was granted in 1921. In 1989 the Omaha, Warkworth and Kaipara Flats clubs merged to become the Mahurangi club and switched from the North Auckland union to the North Harbour Rugby Union. In 1994, North Auckland changed its name to the Northland Rugby Football Union.
North Auckland played their first ever match as union on August 3, 1920, in an 11-0 victory over South Island Country. However, they did not play their first 'inter-union' match until July 27, 1922 - an 8-6 loss at the hands of Auckland in Whangarei. Their first 'inter-union' win came on August 30, 1923, when they beat King Country 20-8
Northland, as North Auckland, have held the Shield on only four occasions - 1950, 1960, 1971 and 1978. However, they have been a part of a couple of the most memorable moments in Shield History.
Northland's first ever challenge came on July 3, 1935. The 126th Ranfurly Shield match. Northland lost this challenge comprehensively, 29-8, to Auckland.
Northland first won the Shield in 1950, with a 20-9 win over South Canterbury. However, their reign lasted only three games, as Waikato took it off them with a 6-3 win. Almost 10 years passed before Northland won the Shield again, beating Auckland 24-11 in 1960. Their defense of the Shield this time around was not any better, losing it back to Auckland only 11 days later.
More than 10 years passed before Northland would win the Shield for a third time. On this occasion, they beat Auckland 17-12, in 1971. This Shield-winning side fared much better than their predecessors. They managed six successful defenses before losing the Shield back to Auckland in 1972, in what is commonly regarded as the most famous rugby match in Northland history. "Ranfurly Shield Fever" hit the city of Whangarei hard before this encounter. One memorable sign was erected on Whangarei's main street on the morning of the match, reading: "Northland vs South Northland". While another sign, erected just south of Whangarei, read: "You are now entering Ranfurly Shield Country". When game-time arrived, a staggering 40,000 people crammed into Whangarei's Okara Park. An amazing number considering, at the time, Whangarei was a city of only 34,000 people, and Okara Park's capacity seating was not near 40,000. Despite Northland losing the match 16-15, it is seen as a monumental, and proud moment in Northland rugby history.
Incensing a nation
Northland's fourth, and final, Shield victory came in 1978, with a 12-10 win over Manawatu. Northland only managed to win this game by scoring a penalty goal a few minutes after what should have been full-time. Although the Manawatu supporters were livid with what they had just witnessed, what was to follow severely dented the reputation of Northland rugby for years to come. Northland, after regaining the Shield, were to finish their season with two home fixtures against Southland and Otago. Being home matches, everyone assumed they would be Shield defenses, but to the astonishment of the Southland and Otago unions, Northland refused to put the Shield on the line for these matches. Both Southland and Otago took the case to the New Zealand union's appeal committee, but to no avail. Rage towards the Northland union spread throughout the country, even within its own province. Ted Griffin, who coached Northland to its previous Shield wins, boycotted Northlands home matches, but visited the Southland and Otago teams to offer his condolences.
Northland proceeded to defend the Shield successfully five times in the 1979 season. However, very few cared. Many people - players, officials, fans etc. - had lost a lot of respect for the Northland union due to the way they ended the 1978 season. Although they lost the Shield on their 6th defense, to who else but Auckland, Northland had left a bad taste in peoples mouths for the next few years to come.
Past representative players of the North Auckland and Northland Union have the right to belong to the New Zealand Vikings Rugby Football Club should they wish to do so. Many of these members in the past have contributed much to fostering rugby in the Northland area.
First Five-Eighths (Fly-halves)
- Derren Witcombe (Head Coach)
- George Konia (Head Coach)
- Brad Te Haara (Manager)
- Tim Hurst (Trainer)
- Alex Ashton (Physio)
- Conlin Locke (Doctor)
- Lance Hayward (Video Analyst)
- Paul Scutt (Masseuse)
- Ross Osbourne (PDM)
Waikato Chiefs 1995–98
When NZRU were initially deciding the team compositions for the Super 12 in 1995 it was decided that to have the Blues franchise encompass the North Harbour, Counties-Manukau, Northland and Auckland provincial rugby unions would be unfair. This was due to the preponderance of All Blacks (players representing New Zealand) who came from North Harbour, Counties-Manukau and Auckland at the time. Hence if the Blues were to consist of these unions, they would field an All Blacks team in all but name.
This led to North Harbour and Northland being represented by the nearest other team, the Chiefs (at the time named the Waikato Chiefs).
By the end of the 1990s the number of All Blacks from these unions had decreased. This led the Blues and the Chiefs to arrange a swap, where the Chiefs would represent Thames Valley and Counties Manukau in exchange for the Blues representing Northland and North Harbour.
Due to the large size of the Northland province, the Northland rugby union is divided into 7 sub-unions. Each sub-union represents a number of rugby clubs.
Bay of Islands Sub-Union
Northern Wairoa Sub-Union
Whangarei City Sub-Union
Players and coaches of note
Notable former players
- Sports and Leisure in Northland
- Arthur C. Swan, History of New Zealand Rugby Football 1870–1945, 1948
- Rugby Beginnings in New Zealand
- Lindsay Knight, Shield Fever, 1980
- Ron Palenski, Rod Chester, Neville McMillan, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby, 4th Edition, 2005
- "2014 Northland ITM Cup Squad announced". Northland Rugby. 19 July 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2014.