Hopefully the 2020 Wanganui club rugby format will become a lot clearer this week after so much uncertainty over the situation caused by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns.

The Wanganui RFU recently announced July 4 as starting date for the Tasman Tanning premier and senior club competitions.

This is a massive 14 weeks later than last year with a reduced club season of 12 weeks, ending on September 19. Last year finals were played at Cooks Gardens on July 27.

Before the Covid-19 restrictions were imposed three qualifying rounds of the six-team local 2020 premier series were scheduled to start on March 28 with the finals on July 25.

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The 12-team home and away senior grade was to start on Anzac Day (April 25) with finals on July 25.

After some clarification from the Government regarding starting dates for non-contact team training, etc, the WRFU decided to start championship play on July 4, thus allowing plenty of time for the 18 local club squads to properly prepare for competition play.

There is still confusion around the number of spectators permitted to watch matches and to attend after-match functions. There is a stipulation that no food, which is traditional because of the length of travel involved for some travelling teams, is permitted.

Under the restrictions there is also a requirement that everyone has to be seated at a table and liquor served at the table by staff members.

All clubs rely heavily on profits from their clubroom bar sales to help raise funds for overheads like rent, rates, power, uniforms, gear, transport for away fixtures, staff wages (where applicable) and individual player travel expenses (if any).

These vital funds are mainly raised at after-match home fixtures and if attendance numbers are severely affected it places a greater strain on the financial viability of clubs.

Hopefully the Government will relax the attendance regulations, but still retain the necessary health stipulations.

This week's WRFU Board meeting must confirm the starting and finishing dates because there is concern from some clubs that the proposed September 19 finals day eats too far into farming activities,

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There have been hints that because of the late season some clubs may find it very difficult to field teams.

A blessing in the senior grade is a new NZRU ruling that clubs can field as few as 10-aside to enable as many players as possible to compete, especially clubs with small memberships.

Barbarians connection

The recent death of 89-year-old Wanganui rugby identity Dick Hurn has ended a lengthy association for the Marton stalwart with the Auckland-based New Zealand Barbarians Rugby Club.

The Barbarians played against a Rangitikei Invitation XV on Marton Park in the 1970s, a fixture arranged by former Wanganui rep fullback Don Dormer who was later to become heavily involved with the Barbarian club, being elected president in 2004-05 and becoming a life member.

As a result of that Marton game Dick Hurn signed up as a member of NZ Barbarians and retained his membership over the years, one of a very small band of Wanganui people affiliated to the club.

Dick Hurn, who played 55 games for Manawatu and Wanganui as a lock or prop between 1951 and 1959 and was a WRFU and Rangitikei sub-union life member with more than 50 years as an administrator, played in four Ranfurly Shield challenges.

He was Wanganui rep captain in 1957 and during his final rep season (1959) was a member of the Butcher Boys who within the space of four days held Taranaki to 13-17 in a Ranfurly Shield challenge and the British Isles to 6-9 at Spriggens Park.

Dormer, a member of Hurn's club, Marton Athletic, when he was an insurance agent in the Rangitikei, played 17 times at fullback for Wanganui in 1963-64.

The 1962 Auckland rep is best remembered as captain of the Butcher Boys in the controversial last minute 14-12 Ranfurly Shield loss to Taranaki at New Plymouth before 20,000 spectators in 1963.

Wanganui led the shield holders 12-11 with time showing on the clock and winger Colin Pierce took a quick drop-out from under his own goal posts.

The ball sailed towards the sideline but the Taranaki touch judge was not sure whether the ball had gone out on the full because of a packed crowd of excited River City fans, and the referee ruled a scrum back on the 22 metre line.

Taranaki won the scrum and replacement Kerry Hurley grubber kicked the ball ahead to snatch a dramatic shield-saving try.

Dormer had earlier potted a field goal in an 18-41 shield loss to his former Auckland side on Eden Park the same season.

Colin Pierce scored 42 of Wanganui's 45 points in three shield challenges in 1963-64 (13 penalties and a try) including all 15 in a drawn game at New Plymouth in 1964.

Both Dick Hurn and Don Dormer had the honour of captaining Wanganui in Shield challenges.

Wanganui had a link with the formation of NZ Barbarians in 1937.

Locally-born All Black loose forward Hugh McLean (Kaierau), who repped 29 times for New Zealand between 1930-36 when playing for Wellington, Taranaki and Auckland, and Nelson-born 1931 All Black Ron Bush formed the Barbarians with the blessing of the British Barbarians (formed in 1890).

Hugh McLean, son of 14-cap 1896-1904 Wanganui rep Jack McLean, helped the NZ Barbarians win their first official game 43-16 against Auckland at Eden Park in 1938.

Wanganui Collegiate School-educated Billy McLean, who played 26 games for Wanganui between 1888 and 1891, is regarded as the "Father of Kaierau", helping start the club in 1891 and he also played for the Wanganui and Waverley clubs.

He was in the first ever Wanganui rep team that started its career with a 1-all draw (a try counted for 1 point) against the touring Great Britain side in 1888.

Another McLean family member, Robert, had 26 matches for Wanganui between 1891-1901 while the late Sir Terry McLean (Auckland), New Zealand's most famous sports journalist, had a lengthy close association with the Kaiwhakas.

Three notable Wanganui reps – Bill Osborne, Peter Rowe and Andrew Donald – have played for Barbarian teams.

Osborne (Kaierau), the current NZRU president who had 48 games for the All Backs between 1976-84, played for the Barbarians in 1977-78-83-85.
Fellow All Black Donald (Ohakune-Karioi), who repped 20 times for NZ between 1981-84 and 118 games for Wanganui (1976-85), played for the English Barbarians while on tour with the 1983 All Blacks.

Another Wanganui match centurion, Peter Rowe (Taihape-Ruapehu – 120 matches 2003-17), the most capped NZ national Heartland rep and skipper, was the most recent local representative to play for NZ Barbarians.

He was the only Heartland player in the NZ Provincial Barbarians that held the 2017 British Lions to 13-7 in the tour opener in Whangarei, taking the field as a replacement.

Also in the Barbarians, who were managed by Wanganui's Chris Back, was Taihape-born NZ Universities' captain and halfback Jack Stratton (Canterbury), son of ex-Wanganui lock Peter Stratton (79 games 1963-91) and son in law of Wanganui 1976 All Black trialist fullback Bob Barrell (139 rep caps 1963-77).

On the standby list for the Provincial Barbarians was Wanganui-born young Manawatu winger Te Rangatira Waitokia who was the top try scorer (12) in NZ Heartland rugby in 2016, the year the Butcher Boys pipped Buller 20-18 in a tight Meads Cup final at Cooks Gardens.