CMK club rugby flashback: New Plymouth Old Boys run of form in the 1990s

April 24, 2020

Taranaki Rugby looks back at some memorable finals played in Taranaki as part of the CMK club rugby flashback.

In the 1990s, New Plymouth Old Boys achieved a milestone never accomplished before in the history of our club game – a string of six consecutive Taranaki rugby titles.

The success for Old Boys started in 1993, when the club, led by coach Bruce Sutton, beat Inglewood 15-14 in the final at Rugby Park, their first title since 1957. That was just the start as the club notched up 10 titles in 12 years.

In 1994, Old Boys played in the repeat of the previous year’s final beating Inglewood again 20-3. The finals went on, with wins over Spotswood United (14-11), Tukapa twice-in-a-row (32-21 and 35-16) and Coastal (23-11). Clifton then pipped the six-time defending champions by two points in 1999.

Other Old Boys wins came in 2000 and 2002 against Tukapa (25-19 and 36-8), Eltham Kaponga in 2003 (40-10) and Inglewood in 2004 (16-11) within the 12-year period.

However, that success was a built up over several seasons according to former Taranaki and Old Boys lock and loose forward Andy Slater.

Slater, who eventually played 182 games for Taranaki, including a Ranfurly Shield victory and two second division titles, joined the club in 1988 from New Plymouth Boys’ High School. He said the senior side (now known as Premier) barely made the top four at that stage and did not feature many players from Boys High – a natural progression for school leavers.

“There was a lot of desire to reignite the connection between Boys’ High and Old Boys, which resulted in a lot of the players join the club from Boys’ High in the early 1990s. We all had the same grounding at school and knew how to prepare for college matches. We all had that attention to detail, the same work ethic,” he said.

“Surrounding yourself with guys who had a similar background with the mindset to win a championship really got us over the line in the first final.”

The first title was meet with great jubilation from the club’s community given it took 36 years to win another senior championship, but Slater said it was down to Sutton who drove the team’s culture.

“Bruce had a magic personality with lots of laughter and fun. He drove the spirit and culture, made us tight as a team and drove high standards. His passion and innovation flowed onto the players and he was a key to building a great club environment that everyone enjoyed,” he said.

In 1994, Neil Barnes was involved as a player-coach and continued on to coach the side and the titles kept flowing. Slater said he had a great tactical knowledge of the game.

“He’s a great coach in his own right with great ability who brought detail to our squad,” he said.

After playing, Geoff Hall turned to coaching and was involved in championship titles between 1995-1998 and was ‘tactically just as good,’ Slater said.

Not only were the coaches up to snuff, but there was depth in the club. The Senior Reserve side (now Division 1) also won titles throughout the 1990s, notably in 1993, as it was the second time in the club’s history two teams had won titles in the same year, at the period.

Slater recalls trials being held between for the seniors and senior reserves. He believed that the reserves could have beaten a senior team back then due to the depth.

With the titles building, Slater remembers players wanting to play for Old Boys as the reputation of the club was positive throughout the community.

After winning four championships on the bounce, Slater recalls the hunger when an Inglewood stalwart said to members of the Old Boys team; ‘you have not won anything until you’ve won five-in-a-row’. Inglewood achieved such a feat between 1985 and 1989.

“That comment stuck with us and there was that belief we could continue the momentum to win six.”

Slater along with Thomas Trowen, Scott Lines, Craig McEldowney, Dean Magon and Jimmy Carr were involved in all six championships.

“They were just good men who wanted to represent the club with pride.”

Next week Taranaki Rugby will focus on Clifton’s championship win in 1999.

NPOB six-in-a-row:

1993: NPOB 15 v Inglewood 14
1994: NPOB 20 v Inglewood 3
1995: NPOB 14 v Spotswood United 11
1996: NPOB 32 v Tukapa 21
1997: NPOB 35 v Tukapa 16
1998: NPOB 23 v Coastal 11