March 10 - 1955 Counties Union takes shape

The first provincial Rugby Union (Canterbury) was formed in 1879 and more were established in the 1880s and 1890s. There was a lull, then Bay of Plenty were set up in 1911. A spate of Unions were incorporated in the 1920s, Mid Canterbury in 1927 the last of them. It was not until 1955 that the next Union, Counties, came into being.

“Player retention was an issue even back in the early 1950s. It was early in 1954 that Jock Peacock, who was the Manukau Sub-Union delegate on the Auckland Rugby Union, decided it was time that a new rugby union, based in South Auckland, should became a reality. Jock Peacock, along with Arch Scott at the Ardmore Teachers College had developed a rugby nursery by routinely targeting outstanding talent from the first XVs around the provinces. While sporting talent, and in particular rugby was not the sole requirement for acceptance to Ardmore, it was common knowledge that it was no disadvantage for an applicant to have had some previous sporting pedigree.

However, the Auckland union were reluctant to select transitory players from the Ardmore talent pool. Unless a player was exceptionally gifted, or perhaps out of desperation to fill a position where there was a lack of depth, Ardmore players, along with others from the sub- unions, were not selected. Jock Peacock was well aware of the frustrations and decided, almost overnight, to launch his idea for the new union.

There was also a strong lobby coming from other areas. Good people like Des Barriball in Waiuku and Digger Miller in Pukekohe, among others, were very conscious of the necessity to pursue ideas related to the formation of a new union. Dan Bryant, one of the key players in the establishment of Counties, was initially not totally in favour of the idea. At the time, he was finding his involvement with Auckland stimulating and was a reluctant participant in the early moves taking place. It was only after hearing convincing arguments put up by other luminaries that Bryant finally came on board. From then on, he worked skilfully and tirelessly for the cause.

The first official meeting of the delegates from the Pukekohe, Waiuku, Franklin and Manukau Sub-Unions was set up to discuss the processes to be followed in establishing a new rugby union. This meeting took place on October 15th 1954, chaired by the Auckland Rugby Union delegate, Arthur Simmons.

Jock Peacock wasted no time in outlining exactly what their plans for the future were. Basically, the intention was to disband the sub-unions and set up a union that would be controlled directly by the clubs. A second meeting was organised for December 7th 1954, to be attended by delegates from all of the South Auckland clubs from Papatoetoe to Waiuku, with Arthur Simmons again in the chair.

To months later, on February 4th 1955, Jock Peacock died suddenly and Dan Bryant was chosen to replace him in the critical leadership role.

A unanimous decision of the meeting was to make representation to the NZRU for major union status to be granted. All that was now required was for the case to be prepared and for it to be accepted by the Auckland Union for presentation to the NZRU. At the close of the meeting, Arthur Simmons announced that in the interests and for the betterment of rugby, the Auckland Union fully endorsed the move and wished the people implementing the plan every success.

On February 14, the sub-unions amalgamated for the 1955 season and on 10th March 1955, the Inaugural Annual General Meeting of the South Auckland Rugby Football Sub-Union, established under the new rules and constitution, took place at the Papakura Rugby Club. At this meeting, the South Auckland Sub-Union was officially disbanded, leaving the path clear for the formation of the new South Auckland Counties Rugby Union.

On March 31st 1955, the Chairman of the Auckland Rugby Union, Tom Pearce, confirmed that his union fully supported the application. All that was needed was for Dan Bryant to make his submissions as an Auckland delegate to the NZRU. It is now history that he carried out this role brilliantly with his presentation to the national body. The proposal was seconded by near neighbours, Thames Valley, and fully supported by Waikato. The new union had come into being.

Over recent months, one of the most contentious issues had been related to the naming of the fledgling union. Some were promoting the name of Franklin, but this idea found little favour with representatives from certain sub-unions. A stage was reached where the negotiations related to the formation of the new union almost came to stalemate. The decision makers certainly gave plenty of thought and had much heated debate about what the new name would be.

‘The fact that there were then four sub-unions affiliated to the Auckland Rugby Union was to have a significant bearing on the eventual decision to name the fledgling rugby union Counties. Many people believe that the. name Counties has its origin in the various counties scattered about south of Auckland city While there is an element of truth in that concept, the reality is a little different.

At the time that the title of the new union was being discussed, a group of rugby enthusiasts in the area had also just set up a transport company. They had named the new company Three Counties and it was suggested that the new rugby union be named Three Counties. While not ideal, the name had merit, initially the delegates

struggled to make a definitive decision.

Dan Bryant then took it on himself to recommend that the new union be named Counties. He took the matter a stage further and suggested that the union be known as South Auckland Counties in the first year of its existence, This decision was made entirely as a means of ensuring that everyone in New Zealand knew exactly where the new union was located.

While there was generally widespread support nationwide for the venture, not everyone was overjoyed at the establishment of the Counties Union. As is still the case today, there was considerable self-interest driving some unions, and often petty jealousies and a fear of the unknown tended to influence some of the decision making that took place. Some areas were more than a little wary of another potentially powerful Auckland- based union being formed. Some of the problems confronted by Counties are well illustrated by the difficulties experienced with Wellington and Manawatu. Both were vehemently opposed to the concept of another union in the Auckland area. Only when their efforts to stop the union failed, did the Wellington and Manawatu delegates eventually decide to vote for the motion. But this was after considerable lobbying led by Dan Bryant, Wallv Knight and the Auckland, Waikato and Thames Valley delegates prior to the meeting.”

From “Enterprise and Agony. Fifty Years of Counties Rugby” by Paul Cochrane. Published 2005. Pp 33-36.