Tussle for provincial title goes to Southland

Last updated 05:00 06/11/2011

TRUE SOUTH: Southland captain Jamie Mackintosh and team after winning back the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury in July.

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It has been a topic of discussion for decades whenever Kiwis have gathered for a few beers, the odd barbie snarler and a bit of banter.

Strain your ears and you can probably hear old mates arguing right now about which is really New Zealand's top sporting province.

"Auckland," one will say. "We carve up." "Na mate, Canterbury. We win everything." "Hawke's Bay bro," says another. "We're the breeding ground."

It's a subject that boils a person right down to their roots – where hometown parochialism pumps through the veins as provincial pride collides in the sporting arena.

Sunday News has compiled this special report on the success of provinces in our major sporting codes, taking into account titles won and population base.

We've looked at national champions in the country's six major sports: rugby, football, cricket, golf, netball and basketball.

While league certainly stacks up as one of the country's top team sports, national champions are hard to measure with the lack of a consistent inter-provincial competition.

In terms of the code's strength, Auckland, Waikato, Canterbury and the West Coast, particularly in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, have been the regional powerhouses. The six sports we researched clearly showed that no other region even comes close to Auckland. The province's dominance across the board is undeniable.

Auckland have claimed 143 titles in the six major New Zealand sports, including the most in Chatham Cup, Ranfurly Shield, Plunket Shield and Freyberg Masters history, while being top equal in the National Basketball League and trailing only Canterbury, by one, in New Zealand Cup inter-provincial netball titles.

The province, of course, has always had a massive population to draw on.

Its current 1,462,000 inhabitants top the next biggest region, Canterbury/West Coast, by 863,500 people. Canterbury, unsurprisingly, emerged as the country's second top province in terms of titles won, with 86, followed by Wellington, with 80.

Yet the best way to look at the relative success of all provinces is by considering sporting success on the basis of population.

By doing this, we found New Zealand's true sporting capital. If you're from the deep south, you're going to love this one – it's Southland.

With a population of just 94,200 and the second smallest of the 12 provinces, it has snared 23 national titles over the years, with its dominance in rugby in the 1930s and 1940s, and recent strength in netball, giving it one national title per 4100 people.

Next is Wellington.

Long considered the bridesmaid in Kiwi sport, the capital province has regularly won titles in every big sport, giving it a ratio of one per 6040 people.

Canterbury/West Coast, Otago and Nelson/Marlborough flesh out the top five, showing the strength of Kiwi provincial sport undoubtedly lies on the right side of Cook Strait.

If you're from Waikato, Manawatu/Whanganui or Bay of Plenty, it's best to look away.

Bay of Plenty, with a population of 275,000 (the fifth largest), has been a chronic sporting under-achiever, claiming just 12 titles, thanks to its inclusion in the Northern Districts cricket region and a dominant Rotorua-based 1960s netball team.

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Manawatu/Whanganui doesn't fair much better. The sixth largest province has won just 13 titles, while Waikato, despite its 28 titles, under-achieves with a ratio of a title for 14,610 people.

These figures will undoubtedly spark even more debate over cold beers and sausages. The old adage that stats don't lie will be poor consolation for anyone south of the Bombay Hills, or north of Silverdale. However, bragging rights belong in the deep south. Well done, Southland, you win this round.

- Fairfax Media

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