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 rivalries.
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 which 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.
Today: Ponsonby Rugby Club
Wednesday: Waitete Rugby Club
Thursday: Morrinsville Rugby Club
By Chris Rattue
Don't judge a book by its cover, not back then, in the 1970s, when the second wave of Ponsonby rugby success was about to take off.
On arriving in Auckland out of Massey University, future All Black great Andy Haden was encouraged to try out at the club by a friend.
"A club that sounded mightily impressive turned out to be a shed with a sawdust floor, a few scruffy showers, a training ground that belonged to the neighbouring school and a rudimentary club house not much better than our wool shed on the farm in Wanganui," he recalled in one of his books.
Welcome to Blake St, the fabled former home of Ponsonby rugby.
Ponsonby could claim to be first among equals among New Zealand's finest rugby clubs.
A record 47 Ponsonby players have made the All Black ranks, and some 20 others did likewise with other clubs. It is Auckland's most successful club in terms of premier title wins.
But it's the incredible list of characters who have worn the jersey, from the influential to the notorious, which make Ponsonby - a founding Auckland rugby club - so special.
This began with Dave Gallaher, captain of the famous All Black originals, influential rugby man, who died at Passchendaele in 1917.
The tradition has remained.
Samoan Frank Solomon became the first Polynesian All Black, in the 1930s; All Blacks great Sir Bryan Williams is a world legend who with Ponsonby mate Peter Fatialofa put the Samoan team on the international stage; Andy Haden was a professional rugby activist and infamous character on a number of scores; Peter Whiting became the tallest All Black until overtaken by Haden; the legendary All Black Bob Scott was noted for kicking goals barefooted from halfway; even Sonny Bill Williams made an appearance for the club; and the unique characters include the brilliant Carlos Spencer, and hard nosed Kiwis and Manly league star Matthew Ridge.
The most famous of Auckland coaching duos, the rangy English forward Maurice Trapp and "Beegee" Williams, emerged out of the 1970s Ponsonby team to re-write history in charge of the provincial powerhouse. Both became New Zealand Rugby presidents. The 1966 team even included the notorious and mysterious Keith Murdoch.
Ponsonby had the first All-Samoan team, and have been among the pioneers for promoting gay rugby with the Heroes/Falcons.
Winning on the field and superstar players have been at the heart of the Ponsonby story, but it was in decline for a couple of decades before the mid-1970s revival.
Haden credited All Black Keith Nelson, who made his name while at dentistry school in Dunedin, with turning the club around when he became player-coach for a season in the early 1970s.
Ponsonby had been without a title since 1954, and while Nelson - an icon of Ponsonby rugby - didn't break the duck, the men who followed did.
These days, Nelson lives in a Hillsborough retirement complex, with beautiful views across the city.
He notes that while most inner city clubs have long fallen away, Ponsonby thrived. Nelson has played a massive part in that, his rewards including one of the club's more than 40 junior teams being named in his honour.
Nelson, whose father Jack was a staunch Ponsonby man, did the unthinkable in joining Waitemata briefly on returning to Auckland in the 1960s to set up his dental practice.
But as soon as he bought a little Hillman car, Keith was back at Ponsonby, and set about stiffening the club's backbone.
The 81-year-old Nelson has an interesting take on the continuing Ponsonby success story, saying that a steady stream of players from Otago helped save the central city club at a critical point around half a century ago.
Among the imports was a lock named John Rowlatt, whose wife Trish recalls the influence that Ponsonby had on their lives.
"Ponsonby was our family - this is where we made our friends and socialised," says Trish, who is now Keith Nelson's partner, since the passing of their respective spouses.
"Our kids grew up sitting on the steps, listening to Bryan Williams play the guitar while we made them toasted sandwiches. Bryan was only just out of school himself.
"People also knew you could go there and might mingle with a rugby superstar."
The current stars led by All Blacks Patrick Tuipulotu, and the Ioane brothers Akira and Rieko, still make their presence felt at the club. But they rarely get on the field.
A sign of the changed times is Aleks Dabek, who at the tender age of 21 has already led the club to two premier titles.
Dabek said it was tricky balancing rugby, work and his Bachelor of Commerce studies. When his final two papers are completed mid-2021, the former St Peters student will give professional rugby a major crack hoping to somehow make a Super Rugby.
But Ponsonby remains a very appealing fallback option.
"Super rugby is still my dream but if it doesn't happy it's still okay to train on Tuesday and Thursday, and have fun with it on Saturdays."
The "fun" includes striving to fill the special cabinet reserved for the Gallaher Shield, symbol of Auckland rugby supremacy.
"We're the only club which has a dedicated cabinet for it," says openside Dabek, who has had one appearance for Auckland.
"Ponsonby don't have the win potential every year, but at the moment we have the players and coaches to do it."
He says mingling with famous ex-players such as Williams and Olo Brown instils the attitude that the Gallaher Shield is something which is there to be won.
"Ponsonby has a proud history - it is pretty humbling to be captaining this team," he says.
At the other end of the scale is former Maori All Black Joe Royal, the hooker who has just made his first Auckland ITM Cup squad at the age of 35.
Royal, who has played for the Steamers and Steelers, remembers his first Ponsonby game in 2006. He started off as a "boy against men" in a Ponsonby side which won eight consecutive Gallaher Shield titles.
Rotorua native Royal adds: "The biggest difference now is the age of the players - they are a lot younger. But I'm still young at heart as well."
While he knew little about the club on arriving in Auckland from Wellington, he soon learnt the history and about great All Blacks like Gallaher.
Royal, who has played over 100 games, might quietly lean on Ponsonby's past by suggesting to newcomers:"Let's make a piece of history our own."
"But Ponsonby is a lot more than just the All Blacks - we have terrific players who represent Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. And there are the Black Ferns players as well."
Over 20 Ponsonby players have made the Black Ferns, led by the likes of current Ponsonby coach Linda Itunu.
And the Ponsonby women won the Coleman Shield final this year, beating Manurewa in extra time last month.
It isn't always easy for any grassroots sports club, and Ponsonby struck serious financial problems in the early 1990s which almost forced it under. But through it all, the Ponsonby success story lives on.