At last — light at the end of the tunnel! That appears the reality for Wanganui rugby after a delayed start to the 2020 season.
With Covid-19 restrictions down to Level 2 the Wanganui Rugby Union is aiming to start the local Tasman Tanning-sponsored premier and senior club season as soon as possible — likely to be in late June or early July.
The scheduled start was March 28 but the lockdown restrictions have delayed the opening date by around two months.
Clubs require time to prepare 18 squads, six premiers and 12 seniors, for what is likely to be a dozen weekends of qualifying games and play-off fixtures.
Premiers are likely to have two full rounds, home and away matches, and then the semi-finals and finals.
Seniors face either an all-in 12-team single qualifying round and then play-offs or two split 6-team regional home and away rounds plus play-offs.
The split senior format — Metro teams in one division and Northern Wanganui and Rangitikei sub-union sides in the other — would reduce the amount of travelling for most clubs with Ratana the exception.
The season is shaping up to be contested over 12 weekends compared with 14 last year.
But with no Mitre 10 Heartland rugby in 2020 there is no date restriction for club play.
Wanganui is in the process of arranging home and away rep fixtures against neighbouring King Country, Wairarapa-Bush and Horowhenua-Kapiti and a rep trial is likely to be slotted in during club rugby, perhaps between the first and second club rounds.
In the meantime all the various new conditions involved with club play, including strict hygiene regulations, game spectator attendances and after-match function numbers, have to be sorted out.
Inter Island returns?
Over the years Wanganui has provided 34 players, including 13 All Blacks, to North v South Island rugby which is likely to be reintroduced to the national calendar this year.
New NZ Rugby CEO Mark Robinson has said the inter-island fixture, last played in Dunedin's covered stadium in 2012 — the only time during the professional era — is being considered this season.
It makes common sense because it certainly looks unlikely there will be short visits from the Welsh and Scottish teams in July and the All Black contenders need as much play as possible before defending the Bledisloe Cup against the Wallabies later in the year once travel restrictions are lifted.
There have been 80 North-South clashes between 1897 and 2012 with North winning 50 times, South 27 and there have been three draws.
Apart from 1898 to 1901, 1915-16 and 1930 they were played annually until 1995 but then there was a break for 15 years between 1996 and 2011 with only the 2012 match (won 32-24 by the North Island) since then.
Wanganui was represented by Kaierau All Black front rower John Blair in the winning inaugural North Island side (16-3) at Wellington in 1897.
Other local All Blacks to play for the North Island were fellow Kaierau players Peter Henderson, John Hogan and Bill Osborne, Wanganui OBs Arthur Bullock-Douglas, Sandy McNicol, Peter Murray and Mona Thomson, Harrison Rowley (Hunterville), Peina Taitua and Pat Potaka (Rata), Moke Belliss (Moawhango Huia) and Andrew Donald (Ohakune).
Belliss, Bullock-Douglas, Donald and Thomson each played in three fixtures with Thomson, the first All Black to score six tries in a game (v British Colombia in America on the famous 1905-06 New Zealand tour when the team lost only one of 35 matches), repping for both islands.
Wanganui rep match centurions to play for the North Island were Coleman(144 games), Bruce Middleton (119) and Donald (118).
The last local inter-island players were Coleman and current NZR president Bill Osborne who helped North win 39-3 at Rotorua in 1984.
Wanganui has hosted one North-South fixture, on Spriggens Park in 1982 when South won 22-12.
The only other Heartland union to stage the game was North Otago when North won 22-10 at Oamaru in 1986 before a nine-year break for the fixture.
Wanganui North Island reps over the years, including the number of games for the local union and the inter-island details —
David Barton (Wanganui OB — 26 games 1936-39) 1937 at Wellington South Island won 30-21, 1938 Wellington South 31-23.
Don Beard (Wanganui Pirates — 25 1948-50): 1949 Christchurch, North 23-3.
Moke Belliss (Moawhango Huia — Hautapu — 44 1914-31): 1920 Wellington North 12-3, 1921 Christchurch North 28-13. 1922 Auckland South 9-8. 1920-20-21-22 All Black.
John Blair (Kaierau — also played Wanganui OB — 33 1889-1900): 1897 Wellington North 16-3. 1897 All Black.
Arthur Bullock-Douglas (Wanganui OB — 28 1931-36): 1931 Wellington draw 20-all, 1932 Christchurch North 28-10, 1933 Wellington North 27-18. 1932-34 All Black.
A B Campbell (Waverley — 9 1935-36): 1935 Wellington North 15-9.
W H Carlson (Wanganui OB — 11 1926-29): 1928 Christchurch South 15-14
Graeme Coleman (Wanganui HSOB — also played Marton OB — 144 1973-83): 1976 Hamilton South 20-16.
A R Collier (Wanganui OB — also played for Kaierau, Taihape Pirates and Taihape OB — 37 1913-25): 1925 Invercargill North 16-5.
Colin Crimp (Taihape Pirates — 35 1951-55): 1952 Dunedin South 11-3.
Andrew Donald (Ohakune — 118 1976-96): 1981 Dunedin North 10-4, 1983 Blenheim North 22-9, 1984 Rotorua North 39-3. 1981-83-84 All Black.
Bill Dustin (Wanganui Pirates — also played for Kaierau — 54 1903-14): 1912 Napier North 12-8, 1913 Christchurch South 25-0.
Don Grant (Tech COB — 15 1948-50): 1949 Christchurch North 23-3.
Sid Granville (Tech COB — 29 1948-51): 1950 Auckland North 10-8.
Peter Henderson (Kaierau — 26 1946-50): 1948 Wellington South 12-11. 1949-50 All Black.
John Hogan (Kaierau — 15 1903-08): 1907 Christchurch North 11-0. 1907 All Black.
Theo Kipa (Marist — 13 1952-53): 1952 Dunedin South 11-3.
Richard Leahy (Taihape Pirates — also played for Waitotara — 30 1908-14): 1911 Wellington North 19-9.
I A McIntyre (Wanganui OB — also played for Hunterville and Rata — 25 1930-36): 1934 Dunedin South 27-10.
Sandy McNicol (Wanganui HSOB — also played for Waiouru — 34 1970 — 73): 1972 Christchurch North 19-8. 1972 All Black.
Bob Meuli (Kaierau — also played for Wanganui COB — 38 1906-12): 1909 Wellington South 19-11.
Bruce Middleton (Waverley — 119 1974-84): 1981 Dunedin 10-4.
W J Milne (Hunterville — 12 1908-09): 1909 Wellington South 19-11.
H W Montgomery (Wanganui COB — 18 1890-94): 1904 Dunedin draw 3-all.
Peter Murray (Wanganui COB — also played for Kaierau — 39 1901-09): 1904 Dunedin draw 3-all, 1908 Wellington North 12-5. 1908 All Black.
Bill Osborne (Kaierau — 72 1973-84): 1980 Palmerston North North 13-9, 1984 Rotorua North 39-3. 1975-76-78-80-82 All Black.
Pat Potaka (Rata — also played for Wanganui Aotea, Ratana and Kaierau — 17 1918-33): 1923 Wellington draw 5-all. 1923 All Black.
Harrison Rowley (Hunterville — 29 1948-50): 1949 Christchurch North 23-3). 1949 All Black.
Tom Spry (Karioi — 34 1970-73): 1971 New Plymouth North 31-9.
Snowy Svenson (Wanganui OB — 16 1918-21): 1921 Christchurch North 28-13.
Peina Taituha — Also known as T P Kingi (Rata — 17 1921-26): 1923 Wellington draw 6-all. 1923 All Black.
Alex Takarangi (Kaierau — 61 1898-1915): 1904 Dunedin draw 3-all)
Mona Thomson (Wanganui — 4 1904: 1905 Wellington North 26-0. Note: Thomson did not play reps in 1905. He played for South Island in 2003 when in Canterbury and for North Island again in 2008 when in Wellington. 1905-08 All Black
E N Tregear (Kaierau — 18 1899-1904): 1902 Wellington South 20-14.
North Island B Reps —
F S Collier (Mataroa — Also played for Kaierau — 32 1910-22) NI B rep 1914.
Les Head (Wanganui Pirates — 43 1948-54). NI B rep 1953.
Rex Kennard (Waverley — 12 1953-54). NI B rep 1953.
Tim Leahy (Taihape Pirates — also Waitotara — 18 1912-15). NI B 1914.
Maurie O'Connell (Marist — 52 1950-58). NI B rep 1953.
Speedy Winger Dies
Wanganui has lost a Ranfurly Shield try scoring winger with the death of 89-year-old Alf Williams, one of two brothers who played representative rugby for the union.
Four brothers played for the Kaierau club — winger Alf and the late front rower Wally, both reps, were in champion premier club teams, winger Lance was also a premier player and Ron (deceased) played grade rugby for the club.
Alf, rated in the 1956 season NZ Almanack as a "speedy winger," scored a try in his rep debut when the Butcher Boys beat Horowhenua 11-6 at Levin in 1954, fellow Kaierau rep Jackie Thompson and Taihape Pirates' North Island rep Colin Crimp also scoring tries and All Black trialist fullback Les Head (Wanganui Pirates) kicking a conversion.
The same season Alf Williams and the Marton OB pair of Ian Poppe and 1951-53 All Black trialist winger Tommy Goldsmith scored tries and Head landed two conversions in a gallant close l3-16 Ranfurly Shield loss to Canterbury on Lancaster Park.
Alf Williams was back in the South Island two year later with the touring Wanganui team — missed the opening game, a 6-19 Shield challenge against Canterbury with Con O'Leary (Marist) and burly Gil Healy (WHSOB) wingers — but played against South Canterbury, Mid Canterbury, Otago and Southland, scoring a try in the 9-11 loss in Timaru.
The Kaierau winger, who played in two Queen's Birthday Monday morning matches against Taranaki at Spriggens Park, made his last rep appearance in a 12-0 loss to Otago at Carisbrook on the 1956 southern tour.
Alf (13 games between 1954-56) and Wally (15 caps between 1955-58) played together in two rep fixtures, losing to Wellington 0-8 and Manawatu 6-34 in away matches in 1955.
They had been shearers and fencers together while farming with Alf, who was also an Aramoho milk vendor, spending many years looking after grounds and grazing sheep while Kaierau's Devon Road Country Club complex was being developed. It was fitting that he should be elected a club life member.
In addition to managing Kaierau rugby teams, Alf also took a keen interest in hockey, which his family was also involved in and managed teams. He was an active runner in his younger years.