This week's announcement to cancel the 2020 Heartland Championship, by the 12 unions who contest, it puts what is hopefully just a temporary pause on Wanganui's proud rugby legacy.

Historian JB Phillips takes a look those good times.

Cancellation of the 2020 Heartland competition brings to a halt to 44 continual years of national championship fixtures for Wanganui representative rugby teams.

If the current Covid-19 shut-down prevents any representative rugby, it will be only the third time Wanganui will not have a match in its 133 year history.

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The only previous occasions were during the First World War years of 1916 and 1917.
Wanganui played single games, both at home, in its foundation year of 1888 (drawing 1-all with Great Britain) and 1989 (beat Taranaki 9-4).

The 'Butcher Boys' have won ten titles, finished runners-up 11 times and third on five occasions since contesting the inaugural North Island Division 2 series in 1976.

Wanganui finished second to Taranaki on four occasions in the 12-union North Island Division 2, which ran for nine years, until the National Provincial Championship (NPC) 2nd and 3rd Division leagues started in 1985, combining North and South Island unions.

This operated 21 years, before Heartland rugby, embracing 12 unions, would commence in 2006.

With seven titles (six Meads Cup and the 2014 second tier Lochore Cup) in the 14 years of Heartland, the 'blue and blacks' are the most consistent and dominating union in the competition.

In addition, Wanganui finished runners-up for the Meads Cup on five occasions.

Wanganui, with three NPC Division 3 championships, was matched by South Canterbury and Thames Valley as the most successful unions in that championship.

The Butcher Boys were runners-up twice in the competition and finished third on three occasions.

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The best placing in the higher NPC Division 2 series was coming third behind Waikato and North Harbour in 1986, after losing 29-9 in Hamilton and 16-13 at Takapuna in vital tour games.

Semifinals and finals were not introduced into NPC rugby until 1992.

Collectively, Wanganui has won the most titles in Heartland and Divisions 2-3 since the NPC competitions started in 1985 with 10 championships – six Meads, one Lochore and three Division 3.

Steelie Koro holds aloft the 2010 Meads Cup after Wanganui beat East Coast 30-10 at Cooks Gardens.
Steelie Koro holds aloft the 2010 Meads Cup after Wanganui beat East Coast 30-10 at Cooks Gardens.

North Otago, as the winners of three Meads Cups, three Lochore and the 2002 NPC Division 3 competition, are closest behind with seven titles.

Hawke's Bay won six NPC Division 2 competitions over a 20-year period between 1985 and 2005.

South Canterbury, Poverty Bay and Mid Canterbury have all won five titles, Thames Valley has four, while East Coast, Taranaki and Southland have three each.

The following is a summary of the national competitions that Wanganui has contested.

North Island Division 2 (1976-1984, 12 unions): Wanganui runners-up to Taranaki 1976 (32-12, New Plymouth); 1982 (31-12, New Plymouth); 1983 (24-9, Whanganui); 1984 (35-12, New Plymouth); Third 1978 and 1981. Title winners: Taranaki 4, Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, North Auckland, Waikato and Wairarapa-Bush 1 each.

NPC 2nd Division (Wanganui played 12 times in the grade, 1985-2005, 24 unions at various stages). Third 1986. Title winners: Hawke's Bay 6, Southland and Taranaki 3, Nelson Bays 2, Bay of Plenty, Counties, King Country, North Auckland, North Harbour, Waikato and Central Vikings 1 each.

NPC 3rd Division (Wanganui played nine times in the grade, 1992-2003, 21 unions at various stages). Wanganui champions 1989 (South Canterbury 24-21, Timaru); 1996 (Marlborough 22-17, Blenheim); 2003 (King Country 28-16, Te Kuiti). Runnersup 1988 (Thames Valley, 31-12, round robin); 1993 (Horowhenua-Kapiti 15-9, Whanganui). Title winners: Wanganui, South Canterbury and Thames Valley 3 each, East Coast, Poverty Bay and Mid Canterbury 2 each, Horowhenua, Nelson Bays, Marlborough, North Otago and West Coast 1 each.

Heartland (2006-2019, 12 teams): Wanganui Meads Cup champions 2008 (Mid Canterbury 27-12, Whanganui); 2009 (Mid Canterbury 34-13, Christchurch) 2011 (East Coast 30-10, Whanganui); 2015 (South Canterbury 28-11, Timaru); 2016 (Buller 20-18, Whanganui); 2017 (Horowhenua-Kapiti 30-14, Levin). Runnersup 2006 (Wairarapa-Bush 16-14, Whanganui); 2007 (North Otago 25-8, Oamaru); 2010 (North Otago 39-18, Oamaru); 2012 (East Coast 29-27, Ruatoria); 2019 (North Otago 33-19, Oamaru). Lochore Cup champions 2014 (North Otago 16-12, Oamaru). Meads Cup winners: Wanganui 6, North Otago 3, Mid Canterbury 2, East Coast, Wairarapa-Bush, Thames Valley 1 each. Lochore Cup winners: North Otago and Poverty Bay 3 each, South Canterbury 2, Wanganui, Wairarapa-Bush, King Country, Mid Canterbury, Horowhenua-Kapiti, Buller 1 each.