With the second half of the local club cricket season kicking-off last weekend, Sideline Sid's thoughts wandered to up-coming club rugby season in March.

While Bay of Plenty Club rugby was turned on its head last season due to COVID-19, preparations are in place for a return to a regular rugby season.

Last year, two quick fire Western Bay premier and development title races, accompanied by Senior Reserve rugby, were squeezed in between the country-wide lockdown and the later level two restrictions.

A quick review of the season that seemed to be over in a flash, saw Tauranga Sports holding out Te Puna in the premier showdown, with Tauranga Sports Development defeating a gallant Judea in the second echelon showdown.

This season will see a return to a format that has worked well for more than a decade, with 24r teams in two divisions, contesting eleven rounds of round-robin competition.

The top eight then contest the BOPRU Premier Championship, with the remainder split between the Division One and Two title races.

Western Bay of Plenty has dominated the Baywide premier ranks in the new millennium, with only Whakarewarewa (2006) breaking the Western Bay vice-like grip on the silverware in the last fifteen years.

Sideline Sid is an avid history buff and he recently took a journey back in time, courtesy of Papers Past, to see what rugby in the region looked like in its earliest days.

A Bay of Plenty Times piece in April 1880, told of a meeting at the Tauranga Hotel to form the Tauranga Football Club.

The premise was that the Tauranga Football Club would play under the rugby union rules as played by the Auckland clubs.

The next meeting was arranged for the Tauranga Domain, which tells us that rugby joined cricket and athletics at the sporting hub of the Tauranga village some 140 years ago.

It would appear that rugby of the time consisted of arranged games rather than the structured competition of today.

In the 1880's, it was easier to get to Auckland and the Coromandel by coastal steamer than a rugged horse drawn coach journey to Rotorua, with the Tauranga Football Club recorded as regularly playing Auckland and Coromandel teams.

A further Bay of Plenty Times report in 1880, told of  a Tauranga Football Club 15 hosting an All-Comers side from Auckland with the game finishing a tie.

It is interesting to read that “A decided drawback to the game was the want of an umpire and a decided ignorance of the rules of the game displayed by certain members of both contending parties”, which suggests that match was played without a referee with the players deciding the rules of the match.

This year, it would take a mighty upset for recent Western Bay rugby supremacy to be threatened in the 2021 club rugby year.

The premier seeding sees Te Puna, Tauranga Sports, Te Puke Sports, Greerton Marist and Mount Maunganui split by Whakarewarewa, with Rangiuru and Rangataua rounding out the top eight.

Arataki, Te Teko and Rotorua’s Marist St Michaels and Waikite are likely to return to Division One in the second half of the season, with just Whaka remaining to challenge the Western Bay premier supremacy.  

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian