New Zealand has over 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 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.
By Brian Ashby
Since the arrival of professional rugby, Christchurch Boys High School has justifiably been painted as 'The Factory' for first five eighths. So at the very least, that would make High School Old Boys the Assembly Plant.
The roll call of No 10's who've been able to forge a living out of the game is impressive. Andrew Mehrtens was already a household name when professional rugby exploded onto the scene in 1996 and laid the platform for a series of international-quality first-fives through Old Boys. Mal Arnold played the 1999 season for the Hurricanes, while current Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger initially made his name at 10 before going on to build an impressive test career at 12.
Dan Carter's passion for Ellesmere was set aside for a time after leaving school and linking up with Old Boys, where after making his senior debut in 2001, he quickly advanced into the All Blacks. Like Carter, Colin Slade also picked up two World Cup winner's medals after featuring for Old Boys while Fletcher Smith (Hurricanes) and Stephen Brett (Crusaders and Blues) also came through the Assembly Line.
🍾We Are The Bears!Posted by HSOB Rugby Club on Saturday, 27 July 2019
Kosei Ono and Shaun Webb started their careers at Old Boys before going on to play 34 and 35 tests respectively for Japan. New All Blacks assistant coach Brad Mooar never got to play rugby professionally, but he did play four seasons up until 1996 with Old Boys, before heading to Christchurch for more consistent game time.
Mooar highlights the 1995 championship winning final against University under coach Neville Duckmanton and his assistant- a chap called Steve Hansen - as being a career highlight.
Former Black Cap Neil Broom also did his time in the 10 jersey for Old Boys.
But there's so much more to the club than an illustrious history of flashy fellows at flyhalf. The "Polar Bears", a name that derives from their white uniform, have affectionately nicknamed their clubrooms "The Igloo", which is a clear indication that budgets are focused on rugby and not power bills. Anyone who has spent time at North Hagley Park on a winter's afternoon would struggle to argue against the Bob Dean's Fields being dubbed the "The Iceberg" by the Old Boy's faithful.
The traditional perception of club committee members is that of almost pension-ready beer-bellied blokes who wear their trousers too high. The executive committee at Old Boys is refreshingly progressive, with president Nick McLennan, club captain Alex Newfield and rugby development officer Jamie Livingstone all in their mid-30s.
Their contemporary views of the modern rugby world mean that the lack of Black Ferns on their honours board is something of a frustration.
The top women's players gravitate to the University, Christchurch and Lincoln University sides which irks Newfield.
"It is disappointing given the great work and relationship Jamie has built at Christchurch Girls' High."
Livingstone agrees, citing Grace Brooker who made her debut for the Black Ferns in 2019.
"Grace had five seasons for Old Boys from Year 10 until her first year out of high school and we would have loved to have had her on the honours board."
Newfield says the Club holds no grudges: "It's one of the issues [we're] working through with Canterbury Rugby. Grace felt she had to go to one of those other clubs to further her career."
Christchurch Boys' High School has always been the feeder school, although with scholarships available at clubs like Lincoln University, it's no longer a given that they'll automatically get the school leavers on board.
Not all of their recruits have travelled down the traditional school route.
Former All Black captain and current Canterbury co-coach Reuben Thorne is a classic example. Thorne was born in Christchurch but his family shifted north and he starred in a New Plymouth Boys' High School First XV under the tutelage of former Blues and Black Ferns coach Jed Rowlands.
When high school was done and dusted, Thorne found himself back in Canterbury and playing for Lincoln's under 19s.
Bumping into an old mate from New Plymouth, the next season he was convinced to jump across to Old Boys- a decision that has helped shape his life.
Strong club performances in the early days helped underpin a career that took him to seven Super Rugby titles and captaincy of his country.
At the end of the 2008 season, he headed to Japan where he thought he'd see out his playing career. Not so.
"I came home and found myself co-coaching Old Boys with Azza (current Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger). I ended up playing again but on the proviso that I didn't hold back any young blokes".
The unexpected later club career handed Thorne an equally unexpected milestone.
"Ticking over 100 games for the club was never a goal but turned into a nice bonus."
The eventual emergence of Canterbury and Hurricanes flanker Reed Prinsep allowed Thorne to quietly hang up the boots completely and fully focus on coaching.
He was back at it again on Saturday against Linwood, Colts Prems Hamish Cartwright doing his best Roger Tuivasa-Sheck impression. How good!!! #hsobrugby #fearit #signhimupwarriorsPosted by HSOB Rugby Club on Saturday, 1 August 2020
If 2019 was a good year for the High School Old Boys division one team, 2020 is proving to be a little more challenging as they sit in sixth place on the table.
But with eight titles spread through the first two decades of the millennium, it would be foolish to bet against the Polar Bears bouncing back with another ice-melting campaign.