ITM Cup | Heartland Championship | Ranfurly Shield
Fourteen Provincial Unions field teams in the ITM Cup, which provides first-class representative rugby for professional and semi-professional rugby players. Participating teams are Auckland, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Counties Manukau, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, North Harbour, Northland, Otago, Southland, Taranaki, Tasman, Waikato and Wellington.
Teams play each other once in round robin competition, with semifinals and a Final.
Click here to visit the official ITM Cup page on allblacks.com.
The Heartland Championship began in 2006 as the provincial competition for New Zealand’s amateur and semi-professional Provincial Unions, largely based in towns and rural areas of the country. Twelve teams take part in the Heartland Championship: Buller, East Coast, Horowhenua Kapiti, King Country, Mid Canterbury, North Otago, Poverty Bay, South Canterbury, Thames Valley, Wairarapa Bush, Wanganui and West Coast.
The Heartland Championship includes a round of pool play, with teams competing in two equally weighted pools, after which the teams are seeded into two parallel streams of competition, with the top six teams competing for the Meads Cup and the remaining six for the Lochore Cup.
Click here to visit the official Heartland Championship page on allblacks.com.
History of the National Provincial Championship
The predecessor to the ITM Cup and Heartland Championship was the National Provincial Championship, or NPC. This competition was first devised in 1975 and first contested in 1976. For 100 years previously, Provincial Unions had arranged for, scheduled and administered interprovincial matches in an independent, relatively ad hoc fashion.
The NPC was restructured several times during its 30-year history. Originally, the NPC included a Division One and a Division Two, the latter split into North Island and South Island sub-divisions. The NPC title was awarded to the top-placed team on each Division’s competition ladder at the end of the season. Of the 11 original Division One teams only four – Auckland, Canterbury, Otago and Wellington – remained in Division One for the entire lifespan of the NPC.
The first major restructure occurred in 1985: the geographically split Division Two was discontinued and the NPC rearranged into Divisions One, Two and Three. The second major change occurred in 1992, with the introduction of semifinals and a final to determine champions in each Division.
The NZRU conducted a review of its competitions in 2004 and determined that the existing NPC structure was unsustainable and not working in the best interests of New Zealand rugby. The current two-competition format was put in place to commence in 2006.
The Ranfurly Shield is one of the oldest rugby trophies in the world, and was first presented to the NZRU by the Earl of Ranfurly, New Zealand’s Governer-General and Patron of the NZRU, in 1902. With a long and colourful history behind it, the Ranfurly Shield is arguably the most treasured trophy in New Zealand sport. It is often fondly known as “the log o’ wood”.
Contested between New Zealand’s provincial representative teams, it is a challenge trophy, meaning that a challenger must defeat the holder, usually on the holder’s home ground, to claim the Ranfurly Shield. Under the regulations of the current ITM Cup competition, the Shield is at stake in any of the holder’s non-playoff home matches. The holder may also offer additional challenges, home or away, to other teams at its discretion.
Because the Shield may be won or lost in a single match, it has been held by 16 different Provincial Unions and, for many, remains their greatest achievement in rugby. The fact that it is open to every team plays a major role in the ongoing attraction of the Ranfurly Shield.
The first Ranfurly Shield match took place in 1904 – in its very first defence, Auckland, who had been presented with the Shield on account of their superior 1903 record, lost the new trophy to challenger Wellington. Decades later, Auckland compiled one of the most impressive streaks in New Zealand sports history, successfully defending the Shield in 61 consecutive matches between 1985 and 1993.
Click here to visit the official Ranfurly Shield page on allblacks.com.