Rugby Southland is the provincial rugby union who govern the Southland Region of New Zealand. Their headquarters are at Rugby Park Stadium in Invercargill, which is also the home ground of the union’s professional team, the Southland Stags who compete in the Mitre 10 Cup Championship Division and challenge for the Ranfurly Shield.
Despite their proud history, no Southland team has ever won the top division of the New Zealand National Provincial Championship since organised competition began in 1976. However, they have won the NPC second division title five times and held the Ranfurly Shield seven times, most recently in 2011 where they defended the shield twice before losing it to Taranaki. Southland also plays for the Donald Stuart Memorial Shield against rivals Otago in what is the longest tenured provincial rivalry in New Zealand first-class rugby, with 229 matches.
Founded in 1887 after splitting from Otago, Southland and its former stablemate went on to forge what is New Zealand’s longest inter-provincial rugby rivalries. The two sides have played more games against each other than any other representative teams in New Zealand. They played their first game against Otago, losing in a close affair. The Southland region already had strong club rugby teams with Invercargill competing in the Dunedin based competition. The Invercargill club had already produced two All Blacks. They were outside back, Henry Braddon and wing forward, James O’Donnell. In 1885 these two players were recognised as Otago All Blacks as they played their rugby for neighbouring province.
It was not until 1896 when Southland hooker, Nisbet McRobie was selected in the New Zealand team to play Queensland. The side won 9-nil and it was McRobie’s only game in the ‘black jersey’, however he occupies a special place in Southland Rugby history as the provinces first of over 50 All Blacks. Billy Stead became the provinces first test All Black in 1903 and also captained the All Blacks 12 times.
Southland is renowned for producing a high number of quality players despite the small population of the province shown by the over 50 All Blacks who have come from Southland. This continued following the war with players such as Leo Connolly and Jack Hazlett followed by Leicester Rutledge and Frank Oliver. But as rugby in New Zealand was organised into structured annual competition to replace tours and series which Southland had played in previously Southland Rugby struggled to retain their local talent. With Southland in the NPC Second Division from 1976, talented Southlanders began heading north in search of top level rugby. Southland continued to produce homegrown talent over 1980s and 90s which led them to five Second Division titles, namely Brian McKechnie, Steven Pokere, Geoff Valli, Paul Henderson and Simon Culhane who was the shining light for Southland over this period, it was the talent that was lost that continues to haunt Southland fans. Southland at this time was used as a kickstart for many successful players careers. Valli moved to North Auckland in 1981, Pokere left Southland for Auckland in 1984 and Henderson spent what most consider to be his best years as a footballer in Otago from 1987-91. This worsened as Southland neared the millennium and led to embarrassing results where victories were few and far between as Southland was promoted to the NPC First Division after their 1996 championship.
Considered one of Southland’s best ever athletes, it pains many Southland fans to think that Jeff Wilson played only a season for Southland whilst still attending Cargill High School before heading to Otago to attend university and play his provincial rugby and cricket both of which he would represent New Zealand in before turning 20, going on to play 60 tests for the All Blacks. Justin Marshall who was Southland’s halfback left after the winning the 1994 Second Division title and went on to become one of New Zealand’s greatest halfbacks playing 81 All Black tests from 1995-2005 and winning every major trophy in New Zealand rugby excluding a Rugby World Cup. 2002 Southland captain Corey Flynn left the province for Canterbury and the Crusaders in 2003 and went on to play 70 games for Canterbury, 150 for the Crusaders and 15 for the All Blacks which would have been far greater if not for multiple broken arms from 2003-2014.
Others who kickstarted their career in Southland before moving where they became All Blacks Norm Hewitt, Pita Alatini, David Hill and Paul Miller. All Blacks such as Anton Oliver, Damian McKenzie and Mils Muliaina (with the latter going on to become the second ever All Blacks centurion), who left the province for their schooling would not return with rugby’s increasing professionalism to represent the province like their family had in the past.
For a province of its size, Southland’s record against international teams is unmatched. Rugby Park has not been a happy hunting ground for foreign sides many of whom have come to grief at the hands of determined Southland sides over the years. Australian national and state sides have had a particularly miserable time in Invercargill, losing on 13 occasions. The British Lions were defeated in 1950 and 1966 and France were put away in 1979 and 1989 along with Italy more recently in 2003.
Southland were the first South Island province to win the coveted Ranfurly Shield in 1920 when they beat Wellington. Their first shield reign was brief, losing the Shield back to Wellington in 1921 after two defences. They next won the Shield in 1929 off Wairarapa, this time defending it four times before again losing to Wellington. Southland then won the Ranfurly Shield in 1937 and 1938 when they retained the Shield for 12 challenges before losing it to bitter rivals Otago in 1947. With Ranfurly Shield rugby not played from 1939 to 1945 due to World War II, Southland’s nine years with the Shield remains the longest in terms of time period all though it did reside under a bed for much of this time. The Southland side during this period boasted All Blacks George Purdue, Bill Hazlett, Art Wesney, Les George and All Black Captains Frank Kilby and Brushy Mitchell in the Shield winning sides.
Their next Shield victory over Taranaki in 1959 would be their last for 51 years before the 2009 Southland side broke the drought by beating Canterbury 9-3 in Christchurch. Their six defences of the Shield proved to be some of the more iconic Shield games in the professional era including a 16-12 victory over arch-rivals Otago in front of a sold-out Rugby Park, and a 9-6 victory over Auckland days after the biggest snow storm ever recorded in the province led to fans having to shovel snow off the field the day before the game. After losing the Shield to Canterbury, the Stags again claimed the shield from their South Island rivals in 2011 in their most recent tenure which lasted two games. These Southland sides were not headlined by regular All Blacks like the teams from the 1930s and 1940s, instead they were made up mostly of locally grown talent educated at Southland Boys’ High School such as captain Jamie Mackintosh, centurions Jason Rutledge, David Hall, Josh Bekhuis and Tim Boys shaver repair, and future Scotland international John Hardie.
In 1998 the Southland Rugby Football Union Incorporated changed its name to Rugby Southland Incorporated
When Robert Galbraith stepped down as the Southland Rugby Football Union secretary the union handed him a donation which the long-serving Southland rugby administrator promptly spent on a shield he donated back to the union as a prize for Invercargill’s top club rugby competition. The Galbraith Shield has been the prize for Southland’s premier club rugby competition since 1908. There are six teams currently in Southland’s premier competition which was most recently won by the Marist club, in what was their sixth title. The other five clubs are Blues, Pirates-Old Boys, Star, Woodlands and the Eastern Northern Barbarians whose players come from the clubs in the Eastern/Northern sub union.
Current Senior Clubs:
1 Wakatipu play in the Otago Country competition, however due to lack of suitable competition their B team play in the Southlandwide competition as the Wakatipu Wanderers. Wakatipu High School also compete in Southland competition as it involves less travel than the corresponding Otago competition.
2 Wrights Bush do not currently have their own senior team, instead playing as Bush Pirates in a combined venture with Central Pirates.
Rugby Southland control all representative teams within the province, the Southland Stags whom compete in New Zealand’s national provincial championship best spill proof water bottle, known as the Mitre 10 Cup are the top men’s team. This semi-professional side is coached by former Southland and Maori All Blacks player Hoani MacDonald and captained by hooker Brayden Mitchell. Southland teams traditionally wear maroon jerseys with a gold and/or white trim, with white shorts and maroon socks. The jerseys are currently manufactured by BLK Sport and the major sponsor is Southern Institute of Technology.
The Southland squad for the 2017 Mitre 10 Cup is:
First Five-Eighths (Fly-halves)
Southland are one of three home unions to make up the Highlanders Super Rugby team, the other two unions being Otago and North Otago. There is currently an agreement in place for the Highlanders to play one regular season game per year at Rugby Park Stadium. Despite their interests in the Highlanders, Southland players are free to play for whichever Super team contracts them. This has seen players such as former Stag Wharenui Hawera represent the Brumbies who are based out of Canberra, Australia. The players from the 2017 Stags squad with Super Rugby experience are:
Southland’s Captains since 1976 are:
Southland’s Coaches Since 1976 are:
The following players have played over a hundred games for the Southland senior team. Listed in chronological order from Ack Soper in 1966 to most recently Tim Boys in 2014 the 15 are:
* denotes player has not yet retired
Southland has produced 51 All Blacks who are listed below: