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History of Wellington Rugby

Wellington Rugby's rich history spans more than a century, and as such, has experienced many changes over that time.

Rugby made its first appearance in Wellington in 1870 through a team of Wellingtonian "enthusiasts". On September 29, 1871, they played their first representative match against a combined Nelson Clubs side and won.

The Wellington Rugby Football Union was formed in 1879 and is the oldest province in New Zealand alongside the Canterbury Union.

At the turn of the 20th century Wellington were the first province to contest the famous Ranfurly Shield or 'Log o Wood' as it is affectionately known, successfully taking it off Auckland who at the time were the top province in the country. Wellington has gone on to successfully lift the Shield on 9 further occasions, most recently against Auckland in 2008 in a famous 27-0 victory.

The union has a very proud history, producing 165 All Blacks and such great players to wear the silver fern, from 1905 Originals great Billy Wallace to the lightning Ron Jarden, Petone hard man Ken Gray, inspirational leader Andy Leslie, the magical Grant Batty, mercurial number 8 Murray Mexted, try scoring sensation Stu Wilson, 1987 RWC winner Murray Pierce, to the unmatchable back three of Cullen, Lomu and Umaga and modern day greats Nonu and Smith - just to name a few!

The capital's top representative team, the Wellington Lions, contest the National Provincial Competition (NPC), which was initiated in 1976. The Lions have won four national titles, 1978, 1981, 1986 and 2000. In 1981, Wellington swept all before them, including successfully challenging for the Ranfurly Shield in a famous win at Hamilton against Waikato. However, since the gripping 2000 final victory against Canterbury, national titles have continued to allude Wellington's premier side, even though they remained one of the most consistent sides through the 2000's reaching 7 NPC finals in 11 seasons. In 2019 the Wellington Lions will contest the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership.

Since the 2000 season, Sky Stadium (formerly Westpac Stadium), with a capacity of over 34,000, has been the home of Wellington Rugby. In its short history the venue has hosted four NPC finals (2003, 2004, 2008 and 2013), two Super Rugby Finals (2015 & 2016), eight RWC matches (2011) and arguably one of the greatest All Black performances in their 48-18 pummelling of the British & Irish Lions in 2005.

Prior to 2000, Wellington Rugby's home was the storied Athletic Park, in the heart of Newtown. The ground saw many great Wellington players grace many wonderful games at all levels of rugby. Athletic Park opened in 1896 and in 1961 was given a massive overhaul with the dramatic steeply built Millard Stand replacing its famous western bank. Players such as Jarden, Clark, McIntosh, MacEwan, Williment, Stevens, Hewson, Wilson and Fraser were heroes at 'The Park', but there was arguably no greater Wellington player than one Graham Charles ('GC') Williams. In 174 games, Williams portrayed a toughness and durability perhaps never to be seen again in a rugby player.