Mark Anscombe finds himself in a unique situation as the national provincial championship gets set to kick off next weekend.

The Auckland coach was one of the North Harbour "originals", playing 54 games for the the union on the side of the scrum.

North Harbour's status as the newest of the country's 27 unions was drily noted in the 1986 Rugby Almanack: "New Zealand's newest union enjoyed a remarkable first season. As was expected, North Harbour won the newly-established Third Division without much trouble but it also recorded excellent wins over two Second Division teams and one First Division side."

On Sunday week, Anscombe will be doing his best to upset the union's 25th jubilee celebrations as coach of the Auckland team.

Anscombe remembers the birth of the union well and recalls the early versions of what became known affectionately as the Battle of the Bridge.

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Can you remember first hearing about the possibility of a separate union north of the Harbour Bridge?

"I played all my senior rugby at East Coast Bays and played in the Auckland senior competition for seven or eight years before the Harbour competition started.

"There was a lot of talk but the early talk you just dismissed it as pie in the sky. As the years progressed it gathered momentum. About a year out, in 1984, we were told it was going to happen. There was a real excitement about it."

Was it universally accepted that it was a good idea?

"There were arguments for and against it. People were saying guys were being denied an opportunity because in those days the pool of players playing and available for Auckland was pretty large.

"As it transpired, the number of All Blacks that have come out of Harbour and performed since have shown it to have been successful."

Was there a feeling that guys from the big Auckland city clubs, like Ponsonby and University, were being favoured for rep selection?

"No, not really. If you looked back in the early 80s at the calibre of players representing Auckland, I don't think anybody was arguing that this guy and that guy were unjustly being denied selection. There was just too many players, that's why the idea of having another team was warranted."

So where did it all start?

"We went to a sevens tournament in Manurewa, that was the first time under the North Harbour banner. I captained the Harbour sevens team in 1985. We were beaten in the final by Counties. Then in 86, 87 we won the national sevens.

"Our first first-class game was against Queensland Country. We'd done well in the sevens, then beat Queensland Country by 60 [62-10]. Counties came up and Frano Botica scored in the first minute and we were 6-0 up and thinking 'this is all right'. We then got thumped by 40 and that brought us right back down to earth.

"We ended up winning the north third division and went down to Nelson to play Nelson Bays, who won the south, and beat them by 50 [54-10], which got us promoted to the second division.

"Our last game of the year we played Northland, who were in the first division, and beat them [21-15]. We also went down to Taranaki to play them for their centenary celebrations. It was the new against the old and we beat them too [21-18]."

You would have had a few good road trips in those days, places that Harbour wouldn't have much cause to visit any more?

"We went to Ruatoria and Gisborne. In the second year we went to Westport. You'd get stuck in these places for three days. We had some great times.

"The nucleus of that team stayed together for the first four or five years. We formed a really strong relationship. You know, we had a huge rivalry when playing for our clubs because four clubs dominated - East Coast Bays, Takapuna, Northcote and North Shore. The rivalry in those games was immense, it was all on, then the next day you'd go to training and we'd be best of mates. That camaraderie got us through a lot of games."

What are your memories of the initial Battle of the Bridge?

"We played in 1986, the first Ranfurly Shield challenge. It was midweek. We lost 18-6 and they only scored one try against us. Those were the days when no one beat them. John Kirwan scored the only try, down the blindside, and that was it. We had about 35,000 people at Eden Park on a Wednesday. It was a great occasion.

"In my last year, 1989, we were the first North Harbour team to take points off Auckland. We drew 9-9, three penalties to [Grant] Foxy, three to Walter Little because Frano wasn't playing that day.

So have you got mixed feeling about next week?

"Yes and no. A lot of friends will be there that I played all my rugby with, but it's a professional game now and I'm with Auckland. This is my second year as coach and I have a big history with Auckland rugby, too. All my junior rugby was played under Auckland and so were the first years of my senior rugby.

"You go where the opportunities are - mine was at Auckland. I'm passionate about what we're doing here.

"I have fond memories of my time playing for Harbour and particularly of the people I played with, but the team we're preparing against is not those people and not that group.

"So it's all on for young and old."