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 warrants a place on the list due to their unique reputation of being a first-five factory and there's a certain varsity club that 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.
North Shore Rugby Football Club
High School Old Boys (Christchurch)
North Shore Rugby Football Club
Home: Vauxhall Domain, Vauxhall Road, Devonport
Provincial Union: North Harbour (formerly Auckland)
Rally Around Rhonda event raises $133,810
Championships: 7 (1 Auckland, 6 North Harbour)
All Blacks: Don McKay, Brad Johnstone, Gary Cunningham, Wayne Shelford, Frano Botica, Paul McGahan, Craig Newby.
At the southern end of the Devonport peninsula, which pokes into the Waitemata Harbour like a gnarled toe testing the temperature of a sparkling clean bath, lies the home of the North Shore Rugby Football Club, the oldest rugby club in Auckland and one of the oldest in the country.
The members of this club, and their supporters, describe it as the "pride of the union", a reference to the club song written in 1927 and rediscovered in 1982 which is now sung with great enthusiasm by juniors and premiers alike, much to their enjoyment and the corresponding dismay of opposition teams and supporters, especially, presumably, their big rivals Takapuna.
The song also makes reference to "hairy goats", an animal which now features on all manner of supporters' apparel.
In the very early days the club wore red and white hoops before changing to solid navy blue in 1877 (due to a shortage of cotton stocks) and then, due to clashes with other clubs, to thin green and white hoops.
Its grounds are at Vauxhall Domain, a site consisting of two full-sized rugby fields on either side of an artificial cricket pitch next to a spacious clubrooms – reliably said to be the largest hall in the suburb which these days is boasting a brand new roof and ceiling after the old asbestos structure was severely damaged by heavy rain last Christmas.
It's nestled between three volcanoes, Mt Victoria (Takarunga), North Head (Moungauika) and Rangitoto offshore, and amidst some of the most expensive real estate in New Zealand which means the vast majority of its senior players have to travel to get there, and, given the near constant congestion of Lake Road, the only thoroughfare in and out of the peninsula, this is usually no mean feat.
Regardless, this venerable club which was established 147 years ago at the Masonic Hotel, a charming old pub which faced south across the harbour but which was developed into luxury apartments four years ago, is notable not only for its age (perhaps only Christchurch and Nelson are older) but also the quality of players it has produced – seven All Blacks, including a genuine legend in Wayne Shelford – and the whole-hearted support of a community which manifests itself in a thriving junior club and a uniquely family-friendly clubrooms on a Saturday afternoon and evening.
"Buck", a former All Blacks captain who never lost a test while he was in charge and was one of the best loose forwards to have played for New Zealand (and certainly the toughest), represented North Shore for 10 years and says his time in the green and white was invaluable in making him the player he became. He was in the Auckland representative system before he joined North Shore and a major part of the North Harbour union which broke away from Auckland in 1985.
Shelford, 62, recently took over as president of the club – he succeeded Brad Johnstone, a former All Blacks prop who also has a long and proud history at North Shore, as does his family. Don McKay, the club's first All Black and who recently turned 83, is also still involved, as is Frano Botica, an All Black first-five and Kiwis league player who played 100 games for North Shore over 17 years and is now back coaching the premier side.
The club's family connections have always been strong. Donald Coleman, a talented openside flanker who captains the premier team, has a relative – Charles Dacre – who played in the first official North Shore match nearly 150 years ago. The opposition was the now defunct Auckland club.
In the 1980s, Frano was one of at least half a dozen Boticas to play for a North Shore team one memorable afternoon. Now he's back coaching again at a club his father Nik, uncles and brother, Nick, also represented.
"I did a five-year stint and had a few years off," Frano tells the Herald of how he found his way back. "There was no one else so by default I put my hand up again. I don't mind helping the club out. It has a lot of tradition, we've built a good culture there which is family oriented. We have to work hard to get players because we're on a peninsula and we only have Takapuna Grammar really to draw from as opposed to the other clubs who can draw from Westlake Boys' High and Rosmini College and so on."
Frano, now 57, played for Shore because his dad did, but military man Shelford, who was born in Rotorua, made his way from the nearby Navy club in order to improve his game.
"It was tough to leave Navy but if you wanted to play at a higher level of rugby you needed to go to a first division club," he says. "The year before I joined half a dozen other sailors were playing there.
"It was different compared with Navy trainings – very different. Even though we classed ourselves as civilians once we walked out of the gate, once you're military, you're military. Rank is still important and often you are under pressure to prove your worth. As a military person going down to North Shore… the guys were good – it was all about rugby. You end up making friends and it doesn't matter what age group you are. I made some good friends straight away, especially guys like Brad Johnstone. You're playing with doctors, builders, carpenters, all sorts, and they're all good people.
"You end up playing with families like Frano and his uncles, families who basically keep clubs running.
"Being part of North Shore gave me the step up to playing good football all the time against tough clubs."
The navy connection has similarly been important to North Shore because of the personnel involved – Botica still remembers playing with four physical trainers who took great delight in running their teammates into the ground during the mid-week practices – and the club was bolstered in its earliest days by an influx of fit young military men looking for ways to let off steam. Games resembling rugby were being played by soldiers and sailors on the open spaces of the peninsula long before 1870, when the rules were introduced in Nelson.
Botica, a former No 10 blessed with vision and agility, counts playing with Shelford and fellow All Blacks Gary Cunningham and Paul McGahan, along with New Zealand sevens representative Scott Pierce, among his best memories. While his current premier team have been hit extremely hard by injury – an extraordinary 19 players out after four games – they're still keeping their head above the water thanks to the club's depth and services of the second team.
For chairman Max Webb, who played for North Shore, as did his grandfather, father, and, currently, grandson, attracting adult players to the club is a never-ending challenge.
"The cost of living in this area now means the players can't live in Devonport so they have to come in from outside," Webb says. "And that road is a challenge."
"When I first joined the committee in the 90s we had eight senior teams and now we've got three.
"The kids are just not coming back after school but that's the same as everywhere in New Zealand."
The club gets by financially with community grants and loyal sponsors - Webb was eager to mention Firth and Harcourts - and the subscriptions from a junior club which is a clear success story along with, and perhaps because of, its many volunteer coaches and managers.
With 470 kids at the club – up about 10 on last season – and 38 teams, North Shore is the third largest junior club in North Harbour behind Silverdale and East Coast Bays.
The numbers have been helped considerably by what junior club chairman Brad Westgate describes as an "explosion" of girls' rippa rugby over the last three or four years, but, just as positively, the number of kids playing tackle rugby has also increased slightly.
Westgate is passionate about creating a positive and encouraging atmosphere at the club and that is borne out by its increasing numbers and willingness for parents to help out.
"We have this unwavering belief that we can make a difference in these kids' lives," Westgate says. "It's not about creating All Blacks, that will happen naturally if the kids are enjoying it and they're getting good coaching - they'll be spotted at high school and away they'll go. It's about all the kids and keeping as many as possible until they are year eight before they go to high school. We're doing a huge amount, I think, to get these kids ready for their high school years, no matter what they do."
"The catch-line for the club is that we want every single kid back next year, no matter their skill level. To do that we put the kids at the centre of the experience, not the adults, and all the kids are treated fairly."
For Webb, who spoke to the Herald in a clubrooms decorated by a wide variety of international rugby jerseys on loan from Shelford and Johnstone, the friendly atmosphere at North Shore is what makes it so unique and virtually everyone connected with the club would concur.
Even home games against nearest and fiercest rivals Takapuna are played out in a benign spirit. As Takapuna rightfully won bragging rights with a brilliant defensive effort at Vauxhall Domain this season, the crowd lining the northern end of the No 1 field couldn't help but smile as a loud and continuous drum solo broke out inside a neighbouring house.
Afterwards the ample clubrooms were full and the result all but forgotten. "There's a love-hate relationship there but we're good mates really," Webb says.
Asked about the club's special attributes, Webb is unequivocal. "Without doubt it is the families and the community spirit we've got here," he says. "We're a bubble in Devonport and people are loyal to their community. People work hard to ensure it has that environment."
The Pride of the Union
For the Shore is the pride of the union
For the Shore is the pride of them all
For they all stick and strive together
And play the good old game of clean football
The forwards stick together on the leather
And the backs run around like hairy goats
For the Shore is the pride of the union
Three cheers for the old green and whites
Green and whites
* In the interests of journalistic transparency, the writer, who has visited rugby clubrooms from Bluff to Auckland, would like to state that his nine-year-old son is a member of one of North Shore's J4 teams.