Regional rugby

Page 2 – Overview

The growth of provincial rugby in New Zealand

The first game of football in New Zealand under Rugby rules may have been a match between Whanganui Town and Country at suburban Aramoho on Saturday 19 June 1869. There was still no score when darkness fell after ‘two hours hard kicking’, so the game was completed the following Saturday. In signs of things to come, a scheduled foot race ‘did not come off as both competitors were disabled in the foot-ball match’, while a game later that winter was marred by frequent ‘oaths and bad language’ uttered by ‘boys of fifteen and sixteen’.

Until recently, Charles Monro was credited with introducing rugby to New Zealand. Born near Nelson, he was sent to Christ’s College at Finchley in England, where he played the version of football associated with Rugby School. When he returned to Nelson, Monro suggested that the local football club give Rugby rules a go. Nelson College also adopted the game and the two teams met at the Botanical Reserve on Saturday 14 May 1870. The club side won 2–0. Monro visited Wellington later that year and a game between Nelson and Wellington was arranged on 12 September. Nelson won this match 2–1.

Over the next few years rugby clubs sprang up around the colony. In 1879 provincial unions were formed in Canterbury and Wellington to administer rugby at a regional level. A number of other unions emerged over the next decade. In 1892 a New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was formed to standardise the playing and administration of the game. Its foundation members were Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Marlborough, Nelson, South Canterbury, Taranaki, Wairarapa, Wanganui and Wellington. The three major South Island unions – Canterbury, Otago and Southland – initially stayed out of the NZRFU. Internal politics have sometimes been as important in the history of rugby in this country as the actual playing of the game.

By 1895 Canterbury, Otago and Southland had affiliated with the central union and the Bush, Horowhenua, Poverty Bay and West Coast unions had also joined. Other unions were created over time – some splitting off from parent unions that had got too large – and some smaller unions amalgamated. In 2023 there were 26 provincial unions, 17 of them in the North Island, where more than three-quarters of the country’s population lived.

Timeline of provincial unions

Scoring over the years

The value of tries* and kicks has changed over the century and a half rugby has been played in New Zealand. Since 1978 it has not been permissible to drop-kick a goal after taking a mark (with one foot grounded, catching a ball that has been punted by an opponent).





Drop Goal



* In the early days points were scored only by kicking. Grounding the ball behind your opponents’ goal line won you the opportunity to ‘try’ to kick the ball between their goalposts.

How to cite this page

'Overview', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Apr-2023