10 July 1965 – Bay of Plenty 16 vs Buller 9.
Long time coming.
The Buller Union was founded in 1886, Bay of Plenty in 1911. But it was not until this match in 1965 that the two unions played each other. And they have only met once since, in1983 when Bay of Plenty were again successful 32- 9.
That the unions went so long without meeting is of course a reflection of the difficulties of travel for outlying unions which are not on main travel routes. Buller and neighbours Golden Bay-Motueka and West Coast were among the most remote unions, East Coast and North Auckland/Northland are others.
The isolation is reflected in statistics. North Auckland/Northland have played in Buller once, in 1984. The two unions had though met previously, in 1972 in Whangarei when Buller challenged for the Ranfurly Shield but were well beaten 0 – 35. This was the match remembered for Sid Going losing a boot in the last five minutes and having it souvenired by Buller lock Orlando Nahr tucking it up his jersey.
West Coast have only played Bay of Plenty once, in Greymouth in 1984, and have never played North Auckland/Northland..
Buller and East Coast did not meet until 1979, West Coast and East Coast until 1976.
Golden Bay-Motueka never played Bay of Plenty or East Coast, North Auckland just once, in 1968.
The above illustrates what we all knew, that some unions have traditionally been disadvantaged, with their players having less exposure than others in more populous or more centrally located unions.
Those outlying unions compensated to some degree by regular matches with neighbours (Buller and West Coast have played each other 213 times, as against Auckland and Wellington’s 177 matches) and in some cases with sub-union encounters.
The advent of the National Championship in 1976 brought changes, with unions having to meet teams in the same NPC division as themselves, whether or not they normally met. There was also a small flurry, from 1976 to about 1984, of some unions making short tours, apparently as a shakedown for their Championship campaign.
Those buildup matches still continue but for the most part are not first class fixtures. They no doubt contribute to the development of the ITM Cup/Heartland team but are not of much general interest.
Now the ITM Cup and Heartland teams meet regularly during their competitions. And most seasons, perhaps every season, two Heartland unions are given Ranfurly Shield challenges against the holder, invariably an ITM Cup union. Whilst a nice acknowledgement of the impact the Shield has had on New Zealand rugby in the past the gap between ITM Cup and Heartland rugby is such that these matches are of little relevance.