27 August 1983
MID CANTERBURY PERFORMANCE
Mid Canterbury beat their neighbours South Canterbury, in Timaru, by a convincing 30 – 6 in a National Second Division South Championship match on 27 August 1983, winning the Hanan Shield in the process. In itself not too surprising a result, those Shield unions have been beating each other up since 1946. But Mid Canterbury went on to win the Second Division South in 1983, ahead of much bigger unions Southland, Nelson Bays and South Canterbury. Then they went on to beat Northern Division winners Taranaki, a union with probably four times their population, 6 – 3 in a play off to determine who would play the bottom First Division team in a promotion-relegation match. Hawkes Bay in Napier, in a further promotion-relegation game, proved a step too far, Mid Canterbury going down 15-32. Nevertheless it was a successful season, one of a number the union enjoyed in the 1980s.
With Ashburton its only substantial population centre Mid Canterbury is, numerically, one of New Zealand’s smallest rugby unions. Only West Coast, North Otago, Buller and East Coast have smaller populations. Nevertheless in the early nineteen eighties Mid Canterbury was one of the success stories of New Zealand rugby. It won the South Island second division championship in both 1980 and 1983 (when it headed off Southland, Marlborough and South Canterbury) and was never worse than 4th out of eight in the 9 years that championship ran.
In 1980 Mid Canterbury won 14 in a programme of 17 matches, including amongst its scalps Canterbury, Southland, New South Wales and Marlborough. The three losses were to North Auckland, NZ Juniors and Waikato in a promotion-relegation fixture. 1983 saw Mid Canterbury go one better, beating Taranaki, the North Island division two winner and losing to Hawkes Bay in the final promotion/relegation fixture. Other notable wins around this time were over Canterbury in 1976, 1979 and 1982, Otago in 1981 and an unbeaten 4 match sweep through Queensland in 1982.
It’s a measure of the merit of those Mid Canterbury teams that they were able to meet and beat sides from unions with far greater playing depth. Though largely unacknowledged, Mid Canterbury’s success in those years in performing so far above its population level was a significant achievement in domestic rugby in the early eighties. Prominent players for the union at that time who won selection for national teams were:
NEW ZEALAND: R.G. Perry 1980, J.C. Ross 1981
SOUTH ISLAND: B.G. Parkin 1980, Perry 1981/2/3/4, Ross 1981/2, M.B. Roulston 1982/3/4, G.C. Frew 1982/3/5, W.A. Frew 1983, A.H. Gordon 1985.
NZ EMERGING PLAYERS: A.H. Gordon 1985
NZ COLTS: Gordon 1980/2, W.D. Thomas 1982, Lee McDonald 1983
MID CANTERBURY ALL BLACKS
No Mid Canterbury representative has played in a test but D.H. Cameron (1960), R.G. Perry (1980) and J.C. Ross (1981) toured with All Black sides.
Like all country districts Mid Canterbury’s main export has been youth. Four All Blacks who represented Mid Canterbury before moving to Canterbury and the big time were Doug Bruce (Mid Canterbury 1967-69), Bruce McPhail (1956), Tane Norton (1961) and Craig Green (1979-80). In addition All Blacks Allan Robilliard (1924-28) and Jack Kelly (1949-54) were born and educated in Ashburton.