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 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.
Morrinsville Rugby and Sports Club have won just one Waikato championship as an amalgamated entity.
While they have the honour of being the reigning Waikato rugby "Club of the Year" after their Championship As, Bs and Under 85kg teams all won their respective divisions in 2019, for the purposes of a club series paying homage to greatness and achievement nationwide, that dearth of senior titles may draw a few sniffs elsewhere.
But what a remarkable Cinderella story Morrinsville's 2009 Breweries Shield victory was.
It was a shot in the arm for club rugby everywhere as small town giant-killers – so rare in rugby - won their very first title against the backdrop of their coach dying of a heart attack just before the semifinals.
They've made movies out of less.
Morrinsville, 33km east of Hamilton, population 7000, and right on the cusp of the Thames Valley boundary in terms of rugby geography, embraced a grieving champion team which had captured the imagination of the greater Waikato.
A town better known for its cow sculptures, a Fonterra factory that can process 1.2 million litres of milk per day and wild-eyed farmers who think Jacinda Ardern is a communist, suddenly became a sea of sky blue and scarlet for a civic parade, complete with mannequins in Morrinsville jerseys on the roundabouts.
The smile on the town's face was mirrored everywhere by small communities long accustomed to seeing their finest players lured to metropolitan centres.
It's a yarn that deserves retelling because club success is not always quantified in terms of championships, medals, or All Blacks. Sometimes a better measure is how much a club affects and inspires its community, which is what Morrinsville did in 2009 and continues to do today.
"I still get goosebumps now," said Dwayne Sweeney, rugby pro of 17 seasons and a recent centenarian for Morrinsville, on reflecting on the singular circumstances of 2009.
Sweeney, who finally brought up his 100 senior appearances for Morrinsville against Otorohanga in July, was in his third season of super rugby with the Chiefs at the time.
He'd missed the last 2009 club round-robin game, as Morrinsville upset Fraser-Tech to thrust themselves into the semifinals as fourth-placed qualifiers.
There was a huge party at the clubrooms and among those socialising hard was coach Darrin "Styvie" Stevenson, who the next morning suffered a fatal heart attack, aged 43.
"It was a massive shock to all of us and the next two weeks were a blur," Sweeney said.
"The funeral was on Wednesday so we could prepare for our semifinal on Saturday. On the Tuesday night everyone sat down in our changing room and told stories of Styvie. There were tears, then it would go quiet for a while, then laughter, and we went really late into the morning."
Morrinsville, in their very first semifinal, had history against them, facing top qualifiers Hamilton Old Boys at Fred Jones Park. A fourth-placed qualifier had – at that time - never previously beaten a top seed to make the final, and Old Boys were pretty much chasing a perfect season.
In an emotion-driven semi it went down to the wire until Brook Tremayne kicked a late penalty for a 19-18 win to spark wild celebrations.
Sweeney – a 50-game representative at that stage – had been under pressure from Waikato management not to play in the semifinal because of his heavy Super rugby load, and having just played a full game against Auckland 24 hours earlier.
But with Fijian international Waisake Masirewa promoted as Morrinsville's head coach, Sweeney ignored Waikato advice, started, and scored a try – although was subbed off with the game in the balance when angry Waikato coaching staff arrived at the game.
Representing his club was fundamental to Sweeney, who duly challenged Waikato coaches as to what they would have done in his situation.
"This was my town, my club, my time ... When I started with Morrinsville in 2003 we used to get our arse kicked. The top four teams would put 80 on us, week in, week out.
"I'd turn up on Saturday and we struggled. We'd have good numbers, but didn't have the depth. Guys who would come into the region as aspiring professional players would go to old Boys, to Fraser-Tech, to Marist and be based in Hamilton.
"After beating Old Boys we partied real hard that night. It was as if we had already won the championship."
That came a week later – Sweeney only securing permission to start on the bench from Waikato team management on the morning of the match - as most of Morrinsville descended on Waikato Stadium for another impassioned encounter with Tech, the team for whom Styvie had played most of his rugby.
The lead changed five times before skipper Alex Bradley scored a try off the back of a 5m scrum and Sweeney sealed a 26-18 win with close-range penalty goal right on fulltime.
Stadium rules were ignored as hundreds of Morrinsville supporters rushed on to the field and swamped the players at the final whistle. Then came the emotional chant in honour of Stevenson: "Styvie, Styvie, Styvie".
Morrinsville again made the final in 2010, but this time lost 19-15 to Tech, who also went home with the newly-minted Styvie Cup for matches between Tech and Morrinsville.
Brendon Leonard, All Black from 2007-09 was on tour in South Africa when Morrinsville won the 2009 championship.
"My best memory and I wasn't even in the same continent," he mused.
Leonard said Morrinsville epitomises something which is dying in rugby.
"It's all about the community and the culture and everyone comes together for the club, with the age group teams and the seniors all mixing together.
"It's not necessarily about winning titles, its about being part of the community. Small towns rely on these clubs to keep going. And it doesn't just happen naturally.
"Country clubs have to work so much harder for retention of players. The rural lifestyle brings its own challenges. In a big farming community, if calving is running a bit late then guys can't turn up. It's a different dimension."
Morrinsville have produced three Waikato Ranfurly Shield winning captains in Alex Bradley, Sweeney and Duane Monkley, but Leonard said other club heroes such as centenarians Damon McKinnon, Dan Peach and Mark Verner, who continued their involvement with the club after their playing days, flew more under the radar.
Biggest praise was for fellow halfback McKinnon.
"Damon epitomised everything Morrinsville rugby was about," Leonard said. "He worked hard in every single game, in every training he put everything on the line. He showed a lot of young guys what it meant to belong."
Today, at a time when country rugby clubs everywhere are fading away like aging rock stars, Morrinsville field four senior teams, have a junior base of 230 players, and impressive community support.
But their life as an amalgamated entity is a relatively short one. Some would argue that in terms of historical lustre they're not even the most accomplished club at Campbell Park – a venue they share with Kereone Rugby & Sports Club, which was a major club rugby force 60-70 years ago.
Kereone, whose clubrooms sit less than 100 metres from Morrinsville's, were dominant in the 1950s and 60s when All Blacks Don and Ian Clarke and their other brothers were in their prime.
They also produced further All Blacks in Ponty Reid (1950s) and John Leeson (1934), but are a diminished force these days, playing two divisions down.
They declined to join the 1996 amalgamation, but no Morrinsville profile would be complete without acknowledging the club which is literally on their doorstep.
Morrinsville patron Jim Barrett, a former Waikato lock and son of all Black James (Buster) Barrett, served on the committee which examined amalgamation.
"Morrinsville was at a low ebb at the time, with Morrinsville United Old Boys, St Joseph's, Kereone and Northern (Tahuna) all in the bottom tier of Waikato rugby," he said. "Of the 36 clubs in Waikato rugby they were number 24 and below. Any player with any merit would go to Hamilton to play.
"The recommendation of the committee was that all three clubs combine, but Kereone elected to stay on their own, as was their right."
Despite that, Barrett said the clubs have a respectful relationship.
"The amalgamation has been very successful but I don't want to denigrate Kereone. There is no rivalry, because the clubs never meet."
But for players such as Sweeney and Leonard, who both started with Kereone as juniors but then found the need to switch to Morrinsville Rugby and Sports in order to better pursue professional careers, the merger was critical.
"Too much history? Too much pride?" Leonard said of Kereone's decision to stand apart.
Sweeney – who these days travels 50 minutes to training from his Te Kowhai home - credits the merger as having provided him with the platform to eke out a pro career.
"They (Morrinsville United Old Boys and St Joseph's) had to drop their own egos in order to create something better – otherwise club rugby would have died in Morrinsville.
"It was an unsustainable model. Even now it is probably unsustainable long-term in having two teams. We don't have the player base to sustain two competitive premier teams, so one would always struggle.
"We have to compete through having good team culture and having everyone work hard for each other rather than necessarily having good athletes."
Craig Kimpton, another Morrinsville veteran of 100 senior games, believes further amalgamation may be something people consider in the future.
"To me there are a number of ways to look at it. It could be good if we were one club, one town," Kimpton said. "Pooling resources for example, could benefit both clubs. That needn't mean you forget about the past."
But Kereone president Nigel Leeson said his club - one senior team and five junior sides, plus seven netball teams – was happy with the current status and the clubs co-existed amicably.
"They (Morrinsville) wanted a better class of rugby and we don't hold anyone back," he said. "But there are also a lot of players who don't want to play elite rugby and we also get players coming back to us if they can't handle the grade higher up."