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Rugby was introduced into New Zealand by C.J. Monro who had been a pupil of Nelson College, and was sent to England to further his education where he became familiar with the game of rugby. On his return, Monro encouraged the footballers in Nelson to try to play rugby, which they did with much enthusiasm. Nelson Football Club adopted the rules of rugby on 12 May 1870 and the first rugby game in NZ was played against Nelson College at the Botanics on 14 May 1870. Soon after, Monro sailed to Wellington where he picked a team of local men, taught the rules and coached them to play against his visiting Nelson Football Club team. That first rugby game in the North Island was played at Petone, making it the first inter-club and inter-Island game, on 12 September 1870. The Wellington Rugby Football Club was formed in May 1871, playing against the Armed Constabulary and the Nelson team annually.

Wanganui was the third town in New Zealand to play the rugby, established by A. Drew, who had been captain of the Nelson Club. From these early beginnings, the game spread, and clubs were formed the length and breadth of New Zealand over a five year period. The spread of the game soon captured the interests of pioneers in the Manawatu. Several Wanganui players, now living in the Rangitikei, encouraged the locals within the area to play rugby and during July, 1876 enthusiasts from Bulls and Sandon (now known as Sanson), joined together and formed the Rangitikei Club, at Bulls. Soon after this, a Marton team was formed. In 1878, the Feilding men who played for Marton during 1876-77 decided to form the Feilding Club. Shortly after, a club was formed in Palmerston North. In the years that followed, new local clubs were formed and in 1886 The Manawatu County Union was formed in Palmerston North on April 17 by Palmerston, Manchester (Feilding), and Foxton Clubs. In the next few years, numerous other clubs were established and the Union increased in size.

By 1900, rugby in Manawatu declined badly and the Feilding and Sandon clubs joined the Rangatikei Sub-Union and M.R.U. went into recess. Palmerston and Institute clubs were left out in the cold, and by 1902 the Union was revived and re-admitted to the NZRFU. From that point on, rugby in the district began to flourish, with Feilding Club finally being re-admitted to join MRU in 1905. The Showgrounds and Sports Ground were used for club games. By 1909, rifts began to form by sub-unions feeling neglected by the MRU. Troubled times continued over a six year period and the standard of rugby was reported as being poor. In 1912, the serious decline in the standard of local rugby forced administrators to take a hard look at the structure of the game in the district. A new district scheme was established and gradually more clubs were formed. Through the 1920s the game saw rapid growth and an increase in the number of grades.

In 1921, a combined Manawatu-Horowhenua team played the first Springbok team to tour New Zealand in front of a crowd of 14,000 spectators. A combined team played against the All Blacks in 1924 in front of a crowd of 16,000. These two Unions had had discussions over a number of years about merging, and it was not until 1926 that the two Unions amalgamated for representative rugby. The team became known as Manawhenua. Initially the team had a great deal of success, but later declined in strength. In 1933 Manawhenua was abolished.

During the period of the Second World War, 1940 to 1945, many clubs were depleted in numbers and inter-provincial rugby was curtailed. The showgrounds became a Military camp and a new sports ground on Fitzherbert Avenue was formed. Known as Rugby Park, the ground was renamed Ongley Park after the long standing Joe Ongley who had served Manawatu rugby for over thirty years and was also President of the NZRFU from 1938 and finally retired from MRU in 1947. During this war period Linton Army Camp and Ohakea Air Force base became the power of local rugby.
Of note in the first 100 years of Manawatu Rugby was the Representative team of 1959 who went through a season undefeated, winning 9 games and drawing 2 in provincial championships. In 1976, the team won the Ranfurly Shield, holding it through 1977 and finally losing it to North Auckland in 1978. In 1980 Manawatu won the national first division championship. In 1981 few would forget the troubled Springbok tour. Manawatu played against the Springboks in Palmerston North and with the match locked at 19-19 with 10 minutes to go, the visiting team came through and won the game 31-19.

In the period from 1957 to the mid 80s many great names are synonymous with Manawatu Rugby, and many with All Black status. Some of the great names of Manawatu Rugby in this era are Brian Finlay, Ron Horsley, Sam Strahan, Mike O'Callaghan and Kevin Nesdale, not to mention coach Jack Gleeson who went on to be an All Black selector and coach in 1970 and his brother, Owen took over as Manawatu selector-coach. Another name remembered by most as being one for the greatest coaches Manawatu had was Graham Hamer who started in 1975 and saw many players gain All Black status during his reign as coach. In 1971, Robert Burgess was selected as an All Black. The period from 1974 to 1983 every year had at least one player who was a current or former All Black. Names like Kent Lambert, Kevin Everleigh, Duncan Hales, John Calleson, Mike O'Callaghan, Ken Granger, Mark Donaldson, Gary Knight, Mark Shaw, Geoff Old and Frank Oliver, Perry Harris, John Loveday, Lachie Cameron, Craig Wickes, Doug Rollerston, and Bruce Hemara all come to mind.

From 1977 to 1979, Manawatu had the strongest sevens team in New Zealand, being unbeaten for twenty successive Inter provincial matches.
The Union celebrated 100 years of club competition in 1985 and the centennial in 1986. In 1995, playing for Manawatu, Christian Davis became and All Black and was later followed by Christian Cullen who played for the newly formed Central Vikings as Manawatu and Hawke's Bay Unions joined forces. This short lived marriage ended in financial disaster for Manawatu, but Cullen went on to play for Wellington and became one of New Zealand's greatest All Blacks. Following the split, Manawatu returning to become a second division national team that struggled to be competitive and set the province back for a number of years.

In 2005 the Manawatu Rugby Union worked with a number of significant businessmen and put together a case to be reintroduced in the restructured first division national competition, known as the Air New Zealand Cup. In 2006 the newly branded Manawatu Turbos took their place in the new division one competition. This heralded the introduction of Manawatu into professional rugby. Newly appointed coach, Dave Rennie, selected a team that was mostly made up of local players. It was a huge learning curve for the young inexperienced players that made up the team, but gradually they have developed into a competitive side that has produced some interesting results since its inception. The Manawatu Rugby Union has struggled to meet the income levels to afford the continued fielding of a competitive team and in 2008, feel into serious financial difficulties. In 2009, a local campaign was launched to ‘Save the Turbos' as NZRU considered reducing the 14 team competition down to ten teams to make it more affordable for the struggling Unions. Such was the success of the campaign and the high level of public feeling across New Zealand, the Manawatu Rugby Union was spared relegation, and the 14-team competition continues through until at least 2013.
2010 saw the Union suffer some serious injury blows prior to the ITM Cup (formerly the Air New Zealand Cup). Veteran no8 Brent Thompson was forced to retire from a neck injury while midfielder Johnny Leota won't be seen until 2011 because of a knee injury and he joined halfback Aaron Good on the sidelines for the season. Also in doubt for the Turbos in 2010 are captain Josh Bradnock and midfielder Francis Bryant.

Despite the injuries 2010 saw more Turbos players make the step up to Super 14. Aaron Cruden, Nick Crosswell and Andre Taylor were selected for the Hurricanes, while Aaron Smith was selected in the Blues wider training squad.
Taylor and Smith went onto be named in the New Zealand Maori side, while first five eighth Cruden became the first Manawatu All Black for 14 years.
In November 2010, Cruden was again selected in the Hurricanes for the 2011 Super 15 competition, while Nick Crosswell and Aaron Smith were named in the Highlanders' squad.

In 2011 the Manawatu Rugby Union celebrated 125 years with a stellar campaign that saw rivals Hawke's Bay defeated convincingly in the first home game. The result saw the Manawatu Turbos regain the K. R. Tremain Trophy for the first time in 15 years from their arch rivals. From here the team didn't look back with more impressive home wins against, Northland, Taranaki, Wellington before finishing with an absolute demolition of Waikato. The Turbos ended the season on top of the ITM Cup Championship Division a feat that can be largely attributed to their home form at FMG Stadium. Unfortunately Manawatu failed to gain promotion into the Premiership Division as they suffered a nail biting loss to rivals Hawke's Bay at FMG Stadium in front of a capacity crowd.

Despite the final result massive positives were taken from the season and the form of individuals did not go unnoticed with eventual ITM Cup player of the year and Turbos 1st 5/8 Aaron Cruden being named in the All Blacks squad for the world cup; a campaign Aaron would end up playing a vital role in particularly when he came on as a substitute against Argentina in the ¼ finals. His performance would see him gain a starting position for the semi final win against Australia.
Many other players were also making selectors take note due to their form in the 2011 ITM Cup season with Aaron Smith, Nick Crosswell, Ma'afu Fia and Doug Tiejtens all signing with the Highlanders for 2012. Aaron Cruden after playing for the Hurricanes at the start of 2011 followed departing Turbos coach Dave Rennie to the Chiefs along with Turbos winger Asaeli Tikoroituma.

2012 started with Aaron Cruden having a breakout season in Super Rugby; with playing in sublime form all year, Aaron helped lead an impressive Chiefs side to their first Super Rugby title, helped by number of tries scored by fellow Turbo Asaeli Tikoroituma. Aaron Smith also showed his class at halfback for the Highlanders easily topping the rankings as the form no.9 for the year. Showing brilliant talent throughout their respective campaigns both Aarons were selected for the All Black's midyear Steinlager series against Ireland. Cruden and Smith showed they were world class players during the series and come the end of the three tests against Ireland there was no doubt in anyone's mind they would now become regular All Blacks.
Meanwhile in the Manawatu, College Old Boys took out the local Senior

A competition finishing unbeaten a feat that has rarely been repeated in history. With club rugby coming to a close it was ITM Cup time again and Manawatu had to face the harsh reality that due to the Tri Nations structure they will not be seeing Cruden or Smith. Manawatu had a disappointing ITM Cup and both their All Blacks were severely missed, However they still managed to secure a end of year win against Hawke's Bay to retain the K. R. Trophy the first time they had done so since the trophies conception in 1993.

2012 also saw Manawatu Turbos Utility Junior Tomasi Cama named IRB Sevens player of the year as New Zealand took out yet another world title. Sevens also provided an environment for Manawatu to excel in with regards to the women's side of the game with the women's side convincingly taking out the regional and national titles. Many talented young players have emerged from the 2012 Women's Sevens Squads an exciting prospect with the Sevens scheduled to make its Olympic debut in Rio 2016.

Manawatu tasted success in 2014 when the Turbos defeated Hawke's Bay in the final of the ITM Cup Championship final. Success has also followed for Manawatu individuals - Nehe Milner-Skudder became the newest Manawatu All Black in 2015 and was named World Rugby Emerging Player of the Year.  2017 was a massive year for Manawatu midfielder Ngani Laumape, after he had a barnstorming Super Rugby season he was selected and played for the All Blacks.

Values & Goals

Our values and goals emphasise the intrinsic heritage and values of Manawatu Rugby and will continue to shape the fortune and development of the game and activities of the MRU.

About Rugby

Our National Game

On May 14, 1870, Nelson College played Nelson Football Club and so the first rugby game in New Zealand was played. Today, rugby is New Zealand's national game, and forms an integral part of our culture and identity.

The International Rugby Board (IRB), with its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, is the World Governing and Law-making body for the game of Rugby Union. Rugby is currently played in more than 100 countries and the IRB membership encompasses 92 national Unions. In New Zealand, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) administers the game at national level.

Our national side, the All Blacks, have become the most feared opponent in the sport. This international success is built on the strength of grassroots rugby - the schools, clubs, and representative teams of New Zealand's 27 provincial unions.

Laws of the Game

The IRB establishes and documents all rugby laws. Full details are available from the IRB website.


Organised by the NZRFU, the ITM Cup is arguably the world's best provincial rugby competition. The ITM Cup involves 14 premier unions with the remaining unions competing in the Heartland Championship.» more about the NPC...

Super 15

The Super 15 is a regional rugby competition involving teams from three of the world's strongest rugby nations - New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

Manawatu All Blacks

Manawatu All Blacks (selected while playing with Manawatu):
Sam Cockroft, John Mowlem, Graham Shannon, Alex McMinn, Archie McMinn, Phonse Carroll, Arthur Law, Rod McKenzie, Jack Finlay, Stu Freebairn, Keith Bagley, Brian Finlay, Ron Horsley, Sam Strahan, Mike O'Callaghan, Bob Burgess, Kent Lambert, John Callesen, Kevin Eveleigh, Perry Harris, Ken Granger, Doug Rollerson, Mark Donaldson, Gary Knight, John Loveday, Lachie Cameron, Mark Shaw, Geoff Old, Frank Oliver, Craig Wickes, Mark Finlay, Bruce Hemara, Kevin Schuler, Chresten Davis, Christian Cullen, Mark Allen, Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ngani Laumape.

Players who rep Manawatu then moved away to become All Blacks:
John Buxton, Graham Delamore, Keith Gudsell, John Hotop, Brian Molloy, Dick Myers, Bob Olipant, Syd Orchard, Keith Reid, Bob Stuart, Kel Tremain, Murray Watts, Wilson Whineray, Jason Hewett, Jason Eaton, Lee Stensness, Mark Ranby, Dion Waller

Players who were All Blacks before coming and representing Manawatu:
Lewis Allen, Mick Bremner, Ken Elliott, Duncan Hales, Robbie McLean, Jim Ryan, Jack Stalker, Henry Wilson, Marty Berry, Steve Bachop. Andy Haden and Greg Davis (Wallaby captain) both played club rugby while at Massey University.

All Blacks David Kirk and Richard 'Tiny' White received education in Palmerston North.