Club history celebrated
One of the country's oldest rugby clubs in Auckland is reflecting on 140 years of history.
Ponsonby's record books are full of All Blacks, championship winning sides and a strong sense of community.
The club is celebrating the anniversary this month with a weekend of festivities.
It was founded in 1874 and is the oldest in the Auckland Rugby Union.
It has produced more international players than any other club in the country and won more senior championships than any other Auckland side.
Notable All Blacks emerging from its ranks include Dave Gallaher, Joe Stanley, Ali Williams, Olo Brown and Andy Haden.
One man at the centre of it all is All Black great and Ponsonby legend Bryan 'Bee Gee' Williams.
He started his career with the Ponsonby Ponies at age 10 and is now the club's director of rugby.
He made his way through the grades and went on to win a number of Gallaher Shields with the premier side as well as playing for Auckland and the All Blacks.
"It has been a home away from home for me," Williams says. "I spend a huge amount of time down here. My wife says I just go to her house for visits."
Ponsonby is easily the most successful Auckland club with a total of 45 regional championship wins.
It's those wins that Williams looks back on most fondly but it hasn't always been easy.
"Because of the nature of Ponsonby back in the 70s we didn't have any schoolboy teams within the area," he says.
"Some of our members were living out in West Auckland and we set up a satellite club in Kelston."
The Ponsonby-Kelston Rugby Club is still going.
"Once we were able to establish schoolboy teams out there it became a catalyst to build it up in town again.
"We now have 54 junior teams and the club has never been stronger."
Williams believes club rugby is still an important stepping stone in any young player's career.
"The pattern now is that many of the best secondary school players go to the Auckland Academy.
"I think it would be better for many of those guys to spend more time at the club level rubbing shoulders with the older, grizzled veterans who have been around the block," he says.
Another former Ponsonby player and ex-All Black, Ofisa Tonu'u, fondly recalls his time with the club.
"The 1993 Gallaher Shield final was my first game with the premier side. We played Marist who back in those days had the likes of John Kirwan and the Brooke brothers," Tonu'u says.
"We ended up winning the game 38-0. We played some good rugby but the most memorable thing about it was beating a quality opposition that day."
"It's a good club, it has produced a lot of All Blacks and I had some great players around me when I was playing," he says.
"It's the same thing now, a lot of young players are identifying it as a great club and coming to play."
Tonu'u is in his first year as the senior men's coach for Ponsonby. They've already picked up five wins from six games.
And the club's success continues.
Ponsonby player Patrick Tuipulotu was named in the wider training squad for the All Blacks this week.
If he makes an appearance for the New Zealand team he will be the club's 53rd All Black, the most recent being Benson Stanley, now playing rugby overseas.
With 140 years to celebrate Williams is hoping for a big turnout of ex-players, administrators and Pony supporters.
"It's often a case of catching up with old mates and reminiscing, breaking bread and having a drink together. It's not just about rugby, it's about the friendship, the history, the heritage and the community."
NOTABLE PONSONBY ALL BLACKS
Dave Gallaher 1903-1906
Bryan Williams 1970-1978
George Nicholson 1903-1907
Joe Stanley 1986-1991
Bob Scott 1946-1954
Olo Brown 1990-1998
Andy Haden 1972-1985
Ali Williams 2002-2008
May 16: Former Auckland coach, Brian Craies is being ''roasted'' at a special luncheon hosted by Andy Haden and Phil Gifford aka Loosehead Len.
May 30: Mix and mingle evening for past and present players and members.
May 31: Game day with entertainment for the kids, the seniors in action and an evening social.
June 1: Morning church service then exhibition games in the afternoon including Barbarians v Ponsonby Selection.
Later there will be laughs to be had at ''The Great After-match''.
See ponsonbyrugby.co.nz for more information.
Auckland City Harbour News