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 2016 the Wellington Lions will contest the Mitre 10 Cup Championship where they will be striving to return to the Premiership after a heart breaking loss to Hawkes Bay in the 2015 decider.
Since the 2000 season, 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), one Super Rugby Final (2015), 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.
The region's premier club competition, the Jubilee Cup, is one of the strongest in the country and has been challenged since 1929. The fact that 6 different clubs have held aloft the coveted trophy in the last 7 club seasons is testament to the competitiveness of Wellington's premier club competition. Current holders, College Old Boys-Victoria University lifted the Cup for the first time in their amalgamated history in 2015 and the first time since the Victoria University club's win in 1966.
Wellington Rugby has a proud record of participation in the game and is consistently amongst the top three provincial unions in the country in terms of playing numbers. In 2015, 10,670 players registered to play rugby across all grades of rugby from under 6 Rippa boys and girls, through to secondary school grades and into premier men's and women's competitions. In addition, there are more than 1,000 registered coaches, 150+ referees and countless volunteers and administrators that are ultimately the driving force of Wellington's community game.
The 2016 season has already seen a strong level of growth with an increase of over 6% in junior playing numbers - this augurs well for a bright future for the game in the region.
Wellington Rugby also has a very strong representative programme, beneath the Wellington Lions, with nine amateur representative teams. These include the senior Women's representative team, the Wellington Pride, who in 2015 made their first NPC final in four seasons. Additionally, Wellington fields an under 19 team who participates in the Jock Hobbs Memorial National Tournament, of which Wellington were inaugural national champions in 2014. Further rep teams include the Development side, and age grade teams in under 18 (boys and girls) and under 16 (two boys teams). The success and popularity of Rugby Sevens continues to rise and Wellington field representative teams in both men's and women's national competitions. In 2015 the men were crowned national champions, whilst in 2016 both the men and women made their respective national finals.
As well as fostering and developing these Wellington teams and competitions, the WRFU is a 50 per cent stakeholder in the Hurricanes franchise. The Hurricanes are one of 18 teams that play in the Investec Super Rugby Competition. In 2015, the Hurricanes hosted their first ever Super Rugby Final, falling just short to a rampant Highlanders in a classic final. Wellington Rugby also work closely with New Zealand Rugby to deliver the country's biggest sevens rugby event, Sevens Wellington. This tournament is one of eight legs on the World Rugby HSBC Sevens World Series.