Regional rugby

Page 9 – Thames Valley rugby

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The Thames Valley Rugby Football Union was established in 1921 when the South Auckland Rugby Union was split into three parts. (Waikato and King Country were formed at the same time.) The Thames Rugby Union (centred on the town of Thames) stuck with Auckland and did not join Thames Valley for good until 1951. The Swamp Foxes, as they are nicknamed, currently compete in the semi-professional Heartland Championship. Along with Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, King Country and Taranaki, Thames Valley is part of the Chiefs Super Rugby franchise .

High points in Thames Valley rugby

Thames Valley played in a match unique in New Zealand rugby history in 1961. Lined up against them for Waikato that day were the five famous Clarke brothers: Brian, Don, Doug, Graeme and Ian.

Since its first challenge for the Ranfurly Shield in 1951, a 19–6 loss to North Auckland, Thames Valley has endured 14 further defeats in this quest. In 1980 the Swamp Foxes provided Waikato with a stiff challenge before going down 16–7 in the 400th Ranfurly Shield match. This remains their closest shield challenge. In 1986 the union suffered its heaviest ever defeat, a 97–0 mauling at the hands of Auckland.

Success on the domestic front has been confined to NPC third division titles in 1988, 1990 and 1995. Their greatest result came in 1962, when the visiting Australians were defeated 16–14 at Te Aroha.

Great players

One of the early stars of rugby in the Thames Valley region was Jack Dufty, who played for the Goldfield Union based in Thames, which was then a sub-union of Auckland. In Canterbury’s 1906 Ranfurly Shield challenge at Auckland’s Alexandra Park Dufty turned in a remarkable performance with the boot. Auckland’s convincing 29–6 victory included four conversions by Dufty, plus a penalty and a goal from a mark (a now obsolete means of scoring) taken inside his own half. Mick Lomas was another local player to star while Thames was still associated with Auckland, playing 15 times for the All Blacks in 1925–26.
 
Bob O’Dea (1953–54) and Kevin Barry (1962–64) remain the only Thames Valley players to have represented the All Blacks while playing for the union. Thames Valley captain O’Dea was a surprise selection as flanker for the 1953 All Blacks tour of Britain and France. His tour was hampered by a knee injury and he played in only five of the of the 36 matches. Though selected as a flanker he was considered to lack the necessary pace and was seen as a better prospect at lock because of his height.

Kevin Barry’s versatility won him a place in two All Black touring teams in the early 1960s. While primarily played as a loose forward, at 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in) tall and weighing nearly 100 kg he at times found himself at lock. In 1961 Barry followed in the footsteps of Jack Dufty by playing Ranfurly Shield rugby for Auckland. After returning to Paeroa for the 1962 season, he was selected for that year’s All Blacks tour of Australia and also made the team to Britain and France in 1963–64. The Barry family holds a special place in All Black history. Kevin’s father Ned was an All Black in 1932 and 1934, and in 1993 Kevin’s son Liam made his All Black debut on the tour of Scotland and England, giving the Barrys the unprecedented honour of having three generations of All Blacks.

In the smaller unions there are often players who provide years of service to their team without receiving national accolades. For Thames Valley, Brian Duggan with 144 games (1970–84) and David Harrison with 639 points (2004–14) stand out.

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How to cite this page

'Thames Valley rugby', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/regional-rugby/thames-valley, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jun-2016

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