National Provincial Competition
In 1976 a National Provincial Competition (NPC) was introduced, which established a round-robin format of play by provinces for competition points within divisions. The competition has had a variety of formats, but there have normally been three divisions involving all 26 unions. In 2011 the ITM Cup began with two competitions, firstly the Premiership and Championship, and secondly the Heartland Championship, with the top tier playing for the Meads Cup and the bottom tier for the Lochore Cup. A major round (semi-finals and final) was introduced in 1992.
As at 2014 Auckland (with 16 wins) and Canterbury (11 wins) have been the most successful teams at the top level. In the early years Bay of Plenty, Counties and Manawatu won the competition, but since 1985 only Wellington, Otago and Waikato (with two wins each) had challenged the two powerhouses. Not surprisingly these five are the home locations of Super 15 teams. In 2014 this pattern was broken by Taranaki.
For all its success, the NPC is now seen as a lesser competition by New Zealand Rugby (formerly the New Zealand Rugby Union), which gives priority to the Super rugby teams. Super rugby followed from the acceptance of professional rugby in 1995. The next year SANZAR (South Africa, New Zealand, Australia Rugby) organised a professional competition between 12 Super teams. There were five teams in New Zealand – the Blues, based in Auckland, Chiefs in Hamilton, Hurricanes in Wellington, Crusaders in Christchurch and Highlanders in Dunedin. In 2006 an additional Australian and South African team were added, and in 2011 another Australian team, making a Super 15 with five teams in each country. The games are played in the first half of the season and the play-off stage culminates in a final.
Rugby fans will never agree on the greatest player – but in Super rugby Daniel Carter, first five-eighths of the Crusaders, has been the greatest points-scorer. Part of the competition-winning team three times, by 2015 he had scored 1,708 points, nearly 300 more than anyone else. Carter was also the highest scorer in international rugby, with 1,516 points.
In the 20 years of Super competition, 1996–2015, the Crusaders have won seven times (they were runner-up four times) and the Blues three times (only equalled by the Bulls). Other New Zealand teams to win the competition have been the Chiefs in 2012 and 2013 and the Highlanders in 2015.
Despite the extensive media coverage of Super rugby, outside the main centres many rugby followers continue to show a greater allegiance to their provincial teams than to Super organisations.