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.
Yesterday: Ponsonby Rugby Club
Today: Waitete Rugby Club
Tomorrow: Morrinsville Rugby Club
Waitete is a small club from a small town in a large, sparsely populated province.
But it's the home club of a very, very big name: a name that is impossible to separate from the club itself – Meads.
Even in death Sir Colin Meads lords it over Te Kuiti where his stunning 2.7m bronze statue has surpassed Tiffany's tearooms as the main street's most prized feature.
Natalie Stamilla's piece captures Meads in full flow, carrying the ball in one bit outstretched mitt the way more modern mortals might carry a cellphone.
(The Meads were not big on hyperbole. When it was unveiled, Stan apparently turned to Colin, who was by that stage dying of pancreatic cancer and said, "That is tremendous." Colin replied, "Yes, I have to admit it is." Few had ever heard the brothers go so over the top about something.)
Rugby Park, Waitete's home ground, also pays homage to the man they call Pinetree, and to Stan, whose All Black career might not have been as long or storied (mainly due to premature retirement because of farming commitments), but who many judge as his older brother's equal as a skilled lock forward.
Stan is still a regular at Rugby Park, sitting in the grandstand for home games with old mates like Brian Cressy.
"We watch the game, moan a bit, have a beer and go home," Cressy, who is knocking 80 and has been part of the club since he was 14, says.
The moaning might have been a bit louder this year as 2020 hasn't been a vintage one.
While usually competitive in the eight-team premier King Country competition, Waitete finished the season a distant sixth, sandwiched between neighbours and rivals Piopio (5th) and Waitomo (7th).
The King Country championship is a relatively recent phenomenon due to the expansive province and the farming lifestyle of most of its players. The union instead contained several sub-unions, including Maniapoto, which Waitete traditionally dominated.
"The title has evaded us in recent years, however," says club secretary and manager Neil Macrae.
The Meads' unstinting loyalty to Waitete has never been a one-way street, as documented by Alex Veysey in his best-selling 1974 biography Colin Meads – All Black.
When describing how Meads managed to keep a working farm while he toured around the world for his country, Veysey wrote: "It is a survival which, in the past, has been assisted by the willingness of his father and Stan and of the Waitete Club members to move in to ensure that his absences on tour are not felt in the practical sense. His loyalty to the Waitete Club and the club to him is one of the most compelling reasons why New Zealand rugby prospered by the presence of Colin Meads for so long.
"Club members marched on to the Meads farm for the hay-making many years ago and it became a habit, an annual event to which they bend their backs with willingness."
Meads finished representative rugby in 1973 and kept a long-held promise to dedicate two full years to playing for Waitete, sealing the almost matrimonial union between club and icon.
Back then, the club was almost as famous for their legendary Sunday Schools as they were for their lock forwards.
Occasionally it involved a bit of maintenance work on the clubrooms, or on somebody's farm or house, then back to the clubrooms where quart bottles and jugs of local draught beer were far more popular than European lagers or buttery chardonnays. Often it involved no work at all.
The schools were revived, according to Macrae, in the late-90s but died a natural death when, quite literally, one of the two driving forces behind the school died a natural death.
"With attitudes to drink driving changing and all sorts of stuff, they just became a hassle. They were long sessions," Macrae said.
While the Blue Bottles – or more derogatorily, the Blue Bellies – are rightly proud of the connection to arguably New Zealand rugby's most famous surname, that alone does not ensure their survival.
There was once three strong clubs in Te Kuiti alone, but Huia and Te Kuiti RFC are no more.
Club stalwart Jason Church said rural club rugby was becoming more tenuous by the year. Waitete this year fields one senior team and three juniors and if it wasn't for nearby Benneydale's Bush United folding this year, they might have struggled to field a team coming out of the original lockdown.
"It's getting really hard to sustain," Church says. "It's really hard to field teams. We basically have three clubs – us, Waitomo and Piopio – fighting over the same small pool of players."
The team relies on farmers and workers at the three meat works and two mills to supply talent. Any decent player at Te Kuiti High School leaves town for brighter lights.
"You can't blame them," Church says.
The future of grassroots rugby is precarious, but there's something unsettling about the idea that Waitete might be impermanent.
That something has everything to do with the immortals the club honours, with whose surname it will always be associated.