By Adam Julian
The Crusaders are the most successful Super Rugby club in the country. To the envy of the rest of New Zealand, they have won 14 Super titles, including seven on the trot.
There are six Provincial Unions across the South Island that represent the Crusaders region. All six will be facing off in the first-ever triple header for the Bunnings Warehouse NPC/Heartland Championship at Apollo Projects Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday 23 September.
The action begins at 2:05pm with South Canterbury taking on Mid Canterbury followed by a Top Four NPC showdown between Canterbury and Tasman. The extravaganza concludes with the fierce rivalry between West Coast and Buller.
Since 2019, South Canterbury has won a record 27 consecutive Heartland Championship matches. In six victories this season they’ve outscored opponents 250-114 but came close to losing to North Otago (26-23), West Coast (39-26), and Thames Valley (36-31). Can Mid Canterbury pull off an upset?
Mid Canterbury is only 2-4 this season but they have secured five bonus points, have an almost neutral points differential, and are superbly led by Adam Williamson.
In all matches between the Unions, South Canterbury enjoys an 86-52 advantage with seven draws but the added competition of the Hannan Shield will motivate Mid Canterbury.
The Hanan Shield was first played for in 1946 after being presented by the Mayor of Timaru, A.E.S. Hanan. The shield, which also involves North Otago, is up for challenge in any meeting between the holders and one of the other two teams. South Canterbury are the current holders and have won 103 Hannan Shield matches. Mid Canterbury has 61 wins, including a four-year span with the Shield between 2013 and 2016 where they also won the Meads Cup twice.
Twice is the number of times Tasman has won the NPC Premiership since Nelson Bays and Marlborough amalgamated in 2006. The marriage wasn’t initially easy, but the Mako have only missed the semis once in the past ten years.
With a 6-2 record Tasman will fancy their chances of knocking over Canterbury who are a point ahead in second on the NPC table, but have lost an additional game.
Tasman hasn’t beaten Canterbury since 2019 but has four consecutive wins which include a rare away success in New Plymouth against Taranaki and a 58-19 thrashing of Manawatū. Twelve of the Tasman starting XV that beat Counties Manukau 27-17 on Sunday have played Super Rugby.
Canterbury boasted six former internationals in their line-up that toppled Southland 29-14 on the same day. Canterbury has dropped matches to Auckland and Counties Manukau in the last month but with only two weeks before the playoffs are bound to hit their straps having won the NPC 14 times.
Munster-bound Māori All Black Alex Nankivell grew up in Christchurch and was part of the Boys’ High First XV in 2014 that attended the National Top Four. He has played 78 games (53 wins) for Tasman and relishes the challenge of playing Canterbury.
“Canterbury has been a benchmark for a long time. It is always a great challenge playing them in Christchurch, especially given we know most of the boys well. Christchurch is a special place for me. I have a lot of fond memories playing there even when I get a bit of stick for being in the Chiefs. It’s wonderful to be a part of this special rugby occasion,” Nankivell said.
West Coast and Buller are two of the smallest unions in New Zealand, but their rivalry is as keen, relevant, and close as any. They have played a remarkable 225 matches with West Coast winning 106, Buller 104 with 15 draws.
West Coast has performed strongly in 2023 with three wins and three defeats, almost toppling South Canterbury. Buller only has a solitary victory to show for their endeavours but in West Coast, Buller games' prior form is often irrelevant.
At least four buses are heading south for the night while several expats are likely to attend. The deepness of the rivalry is perhaps best explained by the story behind the Trophy for the Rundle Cup, a mark of community contribution, family, and sacrifice.
William Rundle was born on 24 April 1874 at No Town, a small mining settlement 25km north-east of Greymouth. His parents, Thomas and Julia Rundle were both born in Cornwall, England, and had come out to New Zealand where Thomas became the storekeeper at No Town from the 1870s. The village also had a hotel and post office.
William and his siblings were educated at the local No Town School. In 1893, when aged 20, he was appointed headmaster at Ahaura School and remained there until retiring in 1901 to pursue his interests in mining.
When his family moved to Greymouth. William played rugby with the local White Star club and in later years was on the management committee of the United Rugby Club.
William also took part in many community activities including cricket, tennis, and musical recitals.
In addition to his work as a Government Life Insurance Co agent, William acted as secretary to several goldmining companies and was a sharebroker and mining agent.
In September 1910 William informed the West Coast rugby union that he wished to donate a cup for competition between West Coast and Buller unions. The cup would replace the previous trophy, Molloy Cup, which West Coast now held outright and kept under the specific conditions that it was donated.
William was 40 years old when World War I broke out in 1914 and even in 1916 when conscription was introduced, he was over age for the ballots. However, he haggled for a place in the military and eventually served as a corporal in the NZ Rifle Brigade. Tragically he was killed on the Somme battlefield on 2 May 1918.
Saturday 23 September 2023 – Apollo Projects Stadium
2:05pm – South Canterbury v Mid Canterbury
4:35pm – Canterbury v Tasman
7:05pm – Buller v West Coast