South Canterbury is now one of the minnows of New Zealand rugby, competing in the semi-professional Heartland Championship. But twice in its proud history the men from Timaru have lifted the Ranfurly Shield – in 1950 and 1974.
The first football match in South Canterbury was played between Timaru and Temuka at Arowhenua on 15 October 1867. The game soon became popular in the predominantly agricultural region. The arrival of a former England international in the mid-1870s saw the first clubs organised, and the South Canterbury Rugby Union was established in 1888.
South Canterbury has been the most successful of the three unions competing for the Hanan Shield (the others are Mid Canterbury and North Otago) since this was presented in 1946 by A.E.S. Hanan, the Mayor of Timaru. Since the inception of the National Provincial Championship in 1976, South Canterbury has enjoyed considerable success in the lower divisions. It won the second division in 1976, 1977 and 1981, and the third division in 1986, 1991, 1998 and 2001. In 2013 South Canterbury won the Lochore Cup, which is contested by the fifth- to eighth-ranked teams in the Heartland Championship.
S.J. Todd debuted for South Canterbury in 1986 and in a career spanning 16 seasons made a record 152 appearances and scored a record 60 tries. B.F. Fairbrother set the points-scoring record between 1981 and 1992 with 1042.
The union’s colours are green and black. Along with Mid-Canterbury, Canterbury, Tasman, Buller and West Coast, South Canterbury is part of the Crusaders Super Rugby franchise.
The driving force behind the establishment of South Canterbury rugby was Alfred St George Hamersley, who had represented England between 1871 and 1874. After emigrating to New Zealand he helped establish the South Canterbury and Temuka rugby clubs in 1875. Hamersley joined forces with Kindersley Camilo Montague Lewin from Christchurch in attempting to persuade Canterbury clubs to adopt Rugby School’s version of the game. After a meeting in Timaru in July 1879, eight clubs established a Canterbury Rugby Union stretching from Rangiora in the north to Timaru in the south. In 1888 a South Canterbury Rugby Union based in Timaru broke away from its parent union.
South Canterbury won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time in 1950 by beating Wairarapa 17–14 in Masterton. It was Wairarapa’s first defence, and the same fate awaited South Canterbury. A fortnight after returning in triumph to Timaru they lost to North Auckland 20–9.
In 1974 South Canterbury ended Marlborough’s fairy-tale tenure with the shield which had begun the season before with its shock win over Canterbury. Having beaten Marlborough 18–6, they defended the shield against neighbours North Otago. After winning a tight match 9–3, South Canterbury had to face powerful Wellington just four days later. This time they lost by the same scoreline.
Timaru’s Fraser Park was named in 1926 to honour the service to local rugby of two generations of the Fraser family. Commercialism reached Timaru in 1996 when a sponsorship deal saw the name changed to Alpine Energy Stadium. Like most provincial grounds it has seen many memorable matches. On one occasion, however, it was in the limelight for a game that never took place. Midway through the highly controversial 1981 Springbok tour, the scheduled match in Timaru between South Africa and South Canterbury was called off. There were fears that there would be a repetition of the pitch invasion that had contributed to the abandonment of the Waikato match earlier in the tour.
One of the more bizarre moments at Fraser Park came in 1961 during a match between the locals and the touring French side. The French were favourites to win but the locals, cheered on by a crowd of more than 20,000 pulled off an historic 17–14 victory. The French became increasingly desperate and physical. South Canterbury’s second five-eighth Eddie Smith came in for special attention much to the disgust of local fan, 56-year-old Hilda Madsen. Having seen enough she walked onto the field with the aid of a walking stick and thumped the offending Frenchman on the back with her fist before police ushered her away.
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