Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Look who's on top now

Stephen Donald and Sitiveni Sivivatu get tackled by Hikawera Elliot during Waikato Chiefs open training. Photo / Christine Cornege
Stephen Donald and Sitiveni Sivivatu get tackled by Hikawera Elliot during Waikato Chiefs open training. Photo / Christine Cornege

These two franchises have an interlocking history but rarely have the Chiefs been so dominant.

The Chiefs are returning to one of their foundation regions tomorrow.

It is bizarre to think North Harbour were part of a franchise which included Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, King Country and Thames Valley.

The New Zealand Rugby Union wanted the Chiefs to play out of Takapuna before the unions got their wish to be based in Hamilton.

The messy Chiefs alliance, which lasted until 1999, occurred because the NZRU wanted to split the heavyweight list of senior players who represented Harbour and Auckland.

"That's why Harbour and Waikato were put together, even though, geographically, it was ludicrous," NZRU chief executive David Moffett later acknowledged.

The Blues did not care one jot. They were assigned Counties Manukau in the boundary decisions and added the extraordinary strikepower of Jonah Lomu and Joeli Vidiri to their squad.

That meant the Blues could start an entire All Black XV while the Chiefs still had a fair swag of test players, though not in the front row or at halfback or five-eighths.

The Chiefs were coached by Harbour's Brad Meurant with help from Northland's Sid Going, with Harbour No 8 Richard Turner as the foundation captain.

He had 11 Harbour colleagues with him, seven from Waikato including national selector Ian Foster, five from Northland, three from King Country and a solitary Bay of Plenty pick.

In short, the Chiefs started the first season firmly as underdogs - the first match was won by the Blues 39-31 - a theme that has continued for most of the 16 seasons since.

Not this year though. The Chiefs stand on top of the New Zealand Conference and the Blues somewhere else.

Tomorrow night is a chance for the Chiefs to reinforce that shift in power, for the Blues to regain some pride.

- NZ Herald

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