Otago has a long and proud history (132 years as a union) of fostering rugby within its borders and of being a major contributor at national level through players, coaches and administrators. Some of the great innovators of New Zealand rugby have been Otago men, including the originator of the All Black jersey and the first New Zealand captain under the aegis of the New Zealand Rugby Union, Tom Ellison, and the first All Black coach, Jimmy Duncan. Such influence more than a century ago has continued unbroken.
Otago has long been recognised as one of the four leading provinces and while demographics have altered the rugby landscape, Otago still lays claim to being among the leading Unions in the provincial competition. Only Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington have contributed more All Blacks than Otago; the University club in Dunedin ranks, with Ponsonby in Auckland, as the provider of most All Blacks.
Since the National Provincial Championship, (now the ITM Cup) began in 1976, Otago has won it twice – in 1991 (when there were no semi-finals and no final) and in 1998. Otago have been finalists six times out of a possible 16 and semi-finalists 11 times.
Rugby in Otago is more than just about the elite level of players or the national level of coaching. It is a game that is carried in the soul of Otago people and developed a culture that embraces the whole province and into which succeeding generations of Otago University students are inculcated. Otago graduates around the world retain the strong loyalty to Otago they developed as students.
Few cities in the world embrace a test match as Dunedin does. Only Cardiff can compare with Dunedin as a city in which a rugby test is all-pervading. Visitors to Dunedin, including national figures, have often lauded Dunedin as a test city with the most outstanding atmosphere and “feel”. Not for nothing is Dunedin known as “Test City” at international time. There is also a practical side and Dunedin in 1993 provided the New Zealand Rugby Union with its first million-dollar gate. Tests in The Otago hinterland has long been an essential part of Otago rugby, proving it is more than a city-based union. While demographics, social changes and farm mechanisation have meant fewer Country players play for Otago than did formerly, Country rugby remains an essential and integral part of the Union.
Mindful of the continually changing dynamics of rugby, ORFU works actively with its 33 clubs to ensure rugby is delivered to the highest standard throughout the province, both in the playing and the administration of the game. And now with its new home at Forsyth Barr Stadium, the Otago Rugby Union has a home ground that’s a cut-above the rest, and the team is continuing to forge a proud legacy here.
Speight’s first established its partnership with the Otago Union back in 1989 and since then has been one of its most loyal and dedicated sponsors. Speight’s is proud to be the principal sponsor of the Otago ITM Cup team.