National Provincial Championship
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The National Provincial Championship, or NPC, was the major domestic rugby competition in New Zealand. The NPC saw many alterations to its format and brand. Since 2006, it has been replaced by two competitions, the Mitre 10 Cup (originally the Air New Zealand or ITM Cup) and the Heartland Championship. From the 2011 Season, the top Division was split into two tiers based on the 2010 Table after Pool Play. Teams 1–7 were assigned to the Premiership and teams 8–14 to the Championship. There is automatic Promotion/Relegation between the two tiers and also "crossover" matches, as well as full Round Robin Matches within each tier. The Heartland Championship is also split into two tiers after pool play with the top tier playing for the Meads Cup and bottom tier playing for the Lochore Cup. Currently all 26 of New Zealand's Provincial Unions participate in either the Mitre 10 Cup or Heartland Championship. The NPC was first contested in 1976, and although the basic format of Division One was much the same from then until the 2006 reorganisation, there were a number of changes to the lower divisions.
Initially, Division One was made up of 11 teams, 7 from the North Island and 4 from the South. The remaining unions contested a split Division Two, with teams from each island playing amongst themselves. The bottom placed Division One team from the South Island played the winner of the Southern Division Two to determine whether they switched divisions, whilst the bottom placed Division One team from the North Island was automatically relegated, switching places with the winner of the Northern Division Two.
The format continued until 1985, when the split Division Two was replaced by a united Division Two and a Division Three. The top and bottom placed teams in each division were automatically promoted and relegated each year.
In 1992, three teams from Division One were relegated so there were 9 teams in each division. Also, 1992 saw the introduction of semi-finals and a final to determine the champion in each division—previously, a league system had been used.
Auckland were the most successful team in the NPC championship, having won 15 of the 30 series.
The only change before 2006 was in 1998, when the number of teams in each division was changed to 10 in Division One, 9 in Division Two, and 8 in Division Three. Having an even number of teams in Division One removed the necessity for byes. Starting that year, automatic promotion/relegation between the top two divisions was ended. In its place, the winner of Division Two played a promotion-relegation match against the bottom club in Division One to determine whether the clubs would switch places. Through 2002, this match was hosted by the bottom team in Division One, but the site was changed in 2003 to the home field of the Division Two champion.
NPC teams, 2005
The NPC divisions prior to the reorganisation of the competitions in 2006 consisted of:
- Bay of Plenty
- North Harbour
The champion was Auckland, who defeated Otago in the final.
All 10 teams in First Division were elevated to the Air New Zealand Cup in 2006.
- Counties Manukau
- East Coast
- Hawke's Bay
- Nelson Bays
- North Otago
- Poverty Bay
The champion was Hawke's Bay, who defeated Nelson Bays for the Second Division title.
Hawke's Bay, Counties Manukau and Manawatu were elevated to the Air New Zealand Cup as intact teams. Nelson Bays and Marlborough merged to form the new Tasman side in the Air New Zealand Cup. East Coast, North Otago, Poverty Bay and Wanganui entered the new Heartland Championship.
- King Country
- Mid Canterbury
- South Canterbury
- Thames Valley
- Wairarapa Bush
- West Coast
The champion was Wairarapa Bush, which defeated Horowhenua-Kapiti in the final.
All Third Division teams joined the Heartland Championship in 2006.
Past NPC winners
Note: From 1976 to 1984 there was no third division, and also the second division was divided into North and South Island competitions. From 1985 to 2005, there were three divisions, all organised on a nationwide basis. From 2006 onward there are 2 divisions of the National Championship, the ITM Cup (Air New Zealand Cup from 2006 through 2009) and Heartland Championship. From 2011 onwards, the top Division was split into 2 tiers, based on the 2010 Table after Round Robin play. Teams 1–7 were assigned to the Premiership and teams 8–14 to the Championship, with Promotion/Relegation between the two. The Heartland Championship is split into two tiers after pool play with the top tier playing for the Meads Cup and bottom tier playing for the Lochore Cup, with Promotion/Relegation between the Meads Cup winner and bottom placed ITM Cup Championship side.
List of New Zealand Premiers
1 – Auckland – 16 titles; 2 – Canterbury – 14 titles; 3 – Wellington – 4 titles; 4 – Otago and Waikato – 2 titles; 6 – Bay of Plenty, Counties Manukau, Manawatu and Taranaki – 1 title.