New Zealand has more than 500 rugby clubs, which makes selecting a 'First XV of classics' an endeavour sure to stir spirited discussion. Our selection criteria was based on All Blacks produced, championships won, history, uniqueness and rivalry.
We have tried to avoid, where possible, Marist clubs, High School Old Boys' and Varsity clubs because they represent massive institutions (the Catholic church; traditional single-sex state education networks; universities) rather than community.
Christchurch HSOB warrant a place on the list due to their unique reputation of being a first five factory and Otago University also makes an appearance through sheer weight of All Blacks and its indelible part of that particular province's rugby history.
The list is subjective and those clubs who feel aggrieved by their omission should write in for a potential redux in 2021.
Our First XV of classic Kiwi clubs will be rolled out three a week over five weeks.
Invercargill Blues Rugby Club
By all accounts, the old Hūkerenui hall would be rocking on a rugby social night.
Most people who drive through the tiny Northland settlement now on their way north to the Bay of Islands or south to Whangarei would have trouble imagining Hūkerenui rocking at all.
It's a curve and a blink, a school and the Jack Morgan Museum. There's no need to slow down as you pass through. Most people have other places to be.
Though just 30 minutes from Whangarei on State Highway 1, the Hūkerenui district seems a world away from any kind of town life. This is farming country, has been for years. They are farms that seem to be constantly fighting back against the scrub and the bush. When this area was all scrub and bush it was the scene of the last major battle of the Northern Wars, when Kawiti and Heke forced a military stalemate with Governor Grey at Ruapekapeka in 1846. Just up the road is a beer-stained colonial pile known as the Towai Tavern. You can turn left here for Maromaku - Going country, Mid-Northern rugby country.
"I used to have a band so we would be playing at the socials and they were big events for the locals," recalls Northland legend Brian Going, brother of Sid and the late Ken.
"It was almost like the big night of the year when people would get dressed up a bit and head out for a meal and a dance. As a club we were very well supported by the locals, but then again we were all locals in the early days so that was how it was."
Mid-Northern is not old by New Zealand club standards, forming as it did through a merger of the Towai-Maromaku and Hūkerenui clubs in 1962. To put that in perspective, neighbouring club Hikurangi last year celebrated its 125th jubilee. That said, the merger brought together two of the most storied family names in Northland rugby history: the Goings and the Morgans. That was the catalyst for everything that followed and undeniably why Mid-Northern quickly established itself as a powerhouse club.
Joe Morgan met his wife Sharon in 1973, a year before he was selected for New Zealand. By that stage he was already a household name in Northland rugby, having first appeared for the Cambridge Blues as a 21-year old in 1967. He was raised in Hūkerenui, on the family farm.
He and his three brothers all played for Mid-Northern. It was an era to remember for anyone involved with the game, and it is remembered fondly by Sharon.
"Joe was 28 when we met and he had always played for Mid-Northern," she says.
"He and the other Mid-Northern players I guess were the superstars of the Northland team then. We realised that team was good but we probably didn't give them enough credit at the time. We have never had anything like it since. Joe, the Going brothers, Les Bradley - they were all fixtures for the club and they brought out the community in force to watch them."
It was during this era that Northland (then North Auckland) lifted the shield from their most hated rivals Auckland. They successfully challenged at Eden Park in September of 1971 and would hold onto the log for six defences before Auckland exacted revenge at Okara Park in August of 1972. On that day, 40,000 fans were in attendance. The population of Whangarei was 34,000.
Sharon Morgan recalls the family nature of the club, where the Mormon fraternity of the Maromaku Valley and the farmers and tradies of the area all came together under one exclusive banner. Some drank, others did not. Most, however, loved a sing along. A guitar was always on hand, too. It galvanised the community, but the close-knit conditions also created sensational combinations.
"Those combinations were everything really, and as a result the rugby was always attractive," she says.
"When you have three brothers playing in a team and practicing all the time then they were always likely to have an edge over other teams. The Morgans were the same. Joe was one of five siblings so you can imagine even while the farm work was being done these guys were talking about moves, practicing moves and perfecting their game. Mid-Northern teams have always been connected by family groups."
The Going connection remains to this day. The Jack Morgan Museum, just down the road from the raised tree-lined playing fields of the club hosted an exhibition called "Going Country". It was perhaps only matched in its breadth of the family's rugby history by a personal collection that went on show in Percy Going's old farm shed which was built on the Maromaku farm in 1939. The local families were supportive of anyone who wanted to come play for the club, though. They put on vans for the out of area players and carpooled for trainings.
"I think a lot of players were keen to come rub shoulders with us at the club," says Brian from his fishing spot in the Bay of Islands. "Sid never wasted an opportunity to tell other representatives that they should perhaps consider joining us at Mid-Northern, either!"
In the 1960s and 70s the Whangarei clubs were the dominant forces of North Auckland rugby, and Mid-Northern was always among the top few.
Others like Hora Hora, Hikurangi and Kamo became fierce rivals over this period and have remained so to this day. There have been ups and downs fo the club but today its junior programme is booming, helped in part by the dedication of another generation of Mid-Northern stalwarts.
David Holwell is up early to tend to stock on his beef farm. They don't come much more Northland than 'Dooley' who apart from a few years in Ireland and Wellington has called this part of the world home since his family first moved to Hūkerenui when he was five.
"That was the first year I played for Mid-Northern and I reckon I had my last game for the seniors when I was 40," he chuckles down the phone.
"I did a couple of ACLs in those last couple of years so that slowed me down a bit. I was slow enough to start with so that hardly helped."
Holwell was just 17 when he first played for the seniors at Mid-Northern. He recalls the team being stacked with Northland players then, just as it had been when Joe and the Goings were cutting merry capers through defences. In saying that, Charles and Troy Going were continuing the family tradition. He won his first championship with the club a year later, defeating Otamatea in the final. When pushed on appearances he just laughs.
"That's one thing we are really poor at. We don't count games or have blazers. We're a little hopeless in that respect, but we don't mind, we just get out there and play."
These days he might even consider a run for the B team but he is mainly focused on coaching his son's under-16 team. He says its a great grade and while some country clubs struggle to muster enough kids, there is no shortage of excellent volunteers trying to make things happen.
"I guess we are just trying to give back to the club in the way that those legends did. Those big names from the 60s and 70s all coached at the club and helped us as kids so it is important that we try to emulate them and do the same."
He also pays tribute to perhaps the greatest club man in Mid-Northern history, the late Tori White. White played on the wing for those early teams and then became club captain, eventually running the bar and being a fixture around the place. He was the unofficial official club patron, welcoming committee, security guard, handyman, potato peeler and jersey washer.
"We have a trophy named for him now," says Holwell. "It is unbelievable to think how much he did for the club. He was a gentleman off the field and allegedly quite the wild man on it. He had a farm just down the road but it's fair to say he fit his farming in around the club, rather than the other way."
Like Going and Morgan, Holwell believes the combinations at club level are crucial for representative teams. Perhaps the most obvious example of this was a try scored by Joe Morgan in the second test against the Springboks in 1976. It was a try set up by an inside flick pass from Sid Going. It was undoubtedly a move the pair had perfected on the fields at Hūkerenui.
"We struck up those combinations through playing together all the time," says Brian - himself a Māori All Black.
"When we were away on representative duties the guys from the B team would step up and take our places and take great pride in still achieving excellent results for the club. There was a wonderful loyalty to Mid-Northern and to each other. That is something that survives to this day.
"I played for Mid-Northern all the way. I coached other clubs but I only played for Mid-Northern. Most of us played until we couldn't walk anymore. The Goings will hopefully always have an association with the club and I have a grandson who has come to play now. The Rush family have formed an association with the club, too."
Sharon Morgan understands that loyalty and association as much as anyone.
"It was a very tight club and it still is. I was thinking about the likes of David Holwell. His late father Murray was involved and he was involved and now his kids are too. If you have that long-standing relationship you will always be connected to Mid-Northern."
Holwell has plenty to keep him busy on the farm, but the red and blue will always be a part of what makes him tick.
"My dad said it starts and ends at your club and I never forgot those words. They have always stayed with me and that's why I will always be a Mid-Northern man."
Chances are, the next generation of Holwells will be too. And, as any Northlander knows, there will always be the coming of another Going.