1960 to 1969 - The Rise After the Fall

The times they were a-changing throughout the 1960s almost everywhere, and Ponsonby Rugby Club was no exception. If anyone who was a regular there in 1960 had been time-warped to the end of 1969, they would hardly have recognised the place. Almost everything was different.

There was a new building, a state-of-the-art job. The old shed, which was still doing duty, had an extension added in 1962 at the cost of £2625 but that was far as things could go to that point. It was, however, a modern property and served its purpose admirably. The major refurb could finally begin in the middle of the decade when two parcels of neighbouring land were purchased. The first, which had a neighbour as a rival bidder, was expensive but allowed the first two squash courts to be built. The second one, whose owner - the rival in the last price war - knew Ponsonby simply had to have it, was pricier. The seller had never been a friend of the rugby club and milked the situation for all he could, but the club was also familiar with that tactic and was prepared to pay what they felt was still a bargain price. With that, full development could begin and the finished article was as good a rugby clubroom as existed in the country.

Money was different. The prices for building improvements to the club would not be in use again after 10 July 1967, when the old faithful pounds, shillings and pence made way for the new (and much simpler) decimal currency with its divisions of ten rather than those of 12 and 20. While most Ponies players were more familiar with instalments of three and five, they soon got the hang of it and subs tended to be paid on time.

The club membership was different. In 1960 it typified the area, mainly white working class and including many families that had been in the district for years. Within ten years it was more diverse, with a rapidly growing Pasifika membership and an increasing Polynesian flavour. There were many more women, and not all were wives of long-standing members who had become involved along with their husbands. And, importantly, a swelling number of members came from a little further out of Ponsonby's old catchment than one may have expected, but this was an area the club cultivated with considerable benefit.

Attitudes over what the club stood for had changed. The social side was still important, but the on-field performance was more so. The Seniors put their flat years of the late 1950s behind them and were now, once again, a force to be reckoned with. They hadn't won the Gallaher Shield for a while but, like the Dodgers fans of the Brooklyn days, felt that next year would always be their year. 

The player dynamic was different. It seems extraordinary now, but the men who turned out most often for the club were either All Blacks or leading Auckland players. Apart from the transitory Keith Murdoch, who played one season in Auckland, all five of the men who appeared in Ponsonby colours in the 1960s and the All Blacks at some stage - Malcolm Dick, Ron Rangi, Keith Nelson, Peter Whiting and Bryan Williams - made well over 100 appearances for the club. Four others - Alec Munro and Hugh Stevens in the first half of the decade, and Robin Currie and Ken Williams in the second half - also reached the milestone but without obtaining a high rep profile, and there was one extraordinary club man in Trevor Paterson. But after them you don't find all that many five- or six- year players who topped out at club level. A large number played for a couple of years and moved on.

Hair was longer, fashions were louder and the club was run by an increasingly young group, who were in tune with the world of the Swinging Sixties as well as its new-style music. The tone was more conciliatory than it had been when rows over The Corner nearly split the club in two, but that's not to say the Committee had gone soft.

The game was more open than previously; the 1964 alteration to the offside laws made it easier to attack and put a premium on try-scoring. Yet, despite Ponsonby commanding three All Black three-quarters in the last part of the decade, it wasn't as adventurous as some. Or so the reports said, yet that seemed to miss the fact Ponsonby regularly scored more points than anyone else - like the weekend of 4 May 1968 when, in atrocious conditions, Ponsonby scored five tries in beating perennial contenders Otahuhu. The other six games of the round produced the princely total of three tries. That was the sort of thing Ponsonby could do.

Ponsonby became renowned as a team that was extremely hard to beat - but which some match reports implied didn't use the torrent of ball as well as it may have, bearing in mind the forwards were always likely to get it back quickly if possession was somehow lost. That, however, was rugby in the mid-1960s. It was certainly rugby in 1966. But not 1967, 1968 or 1969. Then, Ponsonby really opened it up (sometimes) and nobody was safe. Perhaps haunted by the increasing gap back to the last time the Gallaher Shield had hung on the wall and the painful number of narrow misses, Ponsonby did sometimes tighten up. The sixties are the only decade since the club's formation that has not seen an Auckland championship secured; there were, however, some very good teams in those years.

Clubs toured the world now, meaning this memorable experience was not just the province of the elite. Ponsonby was one of the first to take the plunge, and the 1968 venture to Japan was taken, by New Zealand clubs at least, as the blueprint for how these things should be done, both in preparation and then on and off the field.

Junior rugby was bigger than ever, opportunites were greater and everyone was prepared to knuckle down to join the party. The game was still, by far, the country's national sport and showed no sign of losing that position any time soon.

By 1969 everyone felt the club was ready to once again become the flagship of Auckland rugby. It was, but the others weren't ready to yield the crown just yet and getting back on top was a longer process than expected. The road to success in the 1960s ran through Otahuhu, and that club's Senior team was proving more successful over a prolonged period than any club whose name wasn't Ponsonby had ever fielded. In the 60s, the red-and-blacks had a decided won-lost advantage over Ponies; it was the first time any club had put the sign on Ponsonby with such success for more than 60 years, when the great City teams of District days managed it. There were some sterling matches, but more often than not the celebrations were in south rather than central Auckland.

Ponsonby had some visionary men at the helm - one thing that hadn't changed was the gender of the club's drivers even if the first two lady Life Members had been elected in 1964 - and they put a huge amount into restoring Ponsonby's place at the top of the heap. Without much of the behind-the-scenes work of the 1960s, it would have taken longer still. Tangible success was slow in coming, but a lot of spade work was done at a time when there were many hands willing to wield those shovels.