Tomorrow afternoon the Blues will play at Onewa Domain in Takapuna, the venue of the infamous Battle of the Bridge in 1994 - one of the bloodiest national provincial rugby finals ever, a low point in terms of thuggery but a high point for pure rivalry and visceral emotion.
Those brought up on a diet of squeaky clean professional rugby and New Zealand Rugby's all-controlling tentacles which lift the All Blacks to a pedestal far above any domestic competition will hardly believe their eyes if they watch old video footage of a match played between Harbour and Auckland just over a quarter of a century ago.
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Will we see the like again? No – and that's both good and bad. Good because, looking back, the cheap shots, including the one from Harbour's Eric Rush on Auckland rival and All Black teammate Zinzan Brooke was beyond belief. Rush, a qualified lawyer and skilled raconteur, was sent off for hitting Brooke's turned head with his shoulder. It was said that the No8, one of the best to ever play the game, was knocked out. He played on.
Brooke's brother Robin followed Rush to the sidelines after being penalised for rucking some poor Harbour player's head.
The cleaning up of such violence is a victory for rugby, no doubt about it – as is the vastly improved concussion protocols, for that matter.
But it's the diminished rivalries in today's Kiwi game which leaves those of a certain age lamenting (some things about) the end of old days because in this homogenized environment of Super Rugby, which is about to kick off and which won't finish until late June, emotions among even committed rugby fans will barely flicker in comparison.
The Battle of the Bridge is worth revisiting because as the Blues, minus their All Blacks, prepare to play the Hurricanes, minus their best players, in a pre-season game at the scene of one of the most notorious first-class matches in New Zealand, it is a reminder of what we've lost and not only because our once mighty NPC, the envy of the rugby world, is now only a development competition.
The match was unique because it was a perfect storm of a strong Harbour side featuring such greats as Rush, Walter Little, Frank Bunce, Glen Osborne, Ian Jones and others attempting to win their first-ever NPC title against the evil empire of Auckland, who featured the aforementioned Brooke brothers, the late John Drake, Sean Fitzpatrick, Olo Brown, Carlos Spencer, Eroni Clarke… the list goes on.
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It was played on a sunny weekend afternoon in front of a crowd within touching distance of the combatants which, looking back at the old footage, seems almost ready to combust. It's unlikely two Kiwi teams of such quality will play each other in an afternoon match broadcast on free-to-air television again any time soon or perhaps ever again.
Auckland won the match 22-16. The fighting began early. John Hart, a former Auckland and All Blacks coach, was one of those providing comments on the broadcast. "Things may still boil over yet," he says as one skirmish was eventually brought under control by referee Colin Hawke. He was so right.
Another oddity which quickly becomes apparent when looking back, apart from the allowance of rucking, is the depth with which the backlines attack, and the vastly more time they have as a result of that, plus the lack of the defensive line speed which is becoming a scourge on the modern game.
Backs had time and space with which to show their attacking abilities. Will we ever get back to that more free-flowing style of game? That's doubtful too. In these days of endless video analysis, successful teams all adhere to the same defensive and attacking philosophies.
In many ways the game is poorer for it. The Battle of the Bridge - the best of times and the worst of times.