Pride of South City for 150 years

Invercargill Blues is one of the 10 oldest rugby clubs in the country and is the oldest and most successful in Southland.

In 2019 the South City club won the Galbraith Shield for the 32nd time since their inaugural season in 1874.

Invercargill Blues had two players in the first All Black team selected in 1884 and these days are represented in the national team by prop Ethan de Groot.

When the Invercargill club was formed in 1874, points were scored by kicking goals, not scoring tries, and teams comprised 29, not 15, players.

A visit to Riverton in 1875 led to the first organised rugby game in Southland. The Blues team travelled along Oreti Beach in a drag hired for the day. Each side fielded 19 men and the game went on for more than two hours.

It wasn’t until 1887 that the Southland union came into being. Until then, Invercargill was affiliated to Otago.

For the first 82 years of the club’s existence it operated close to and at Rugby Park before moving to Appleby in 1956, creating a wonderful sporting complex that has served many sports to this day.

The glory days for the South City club’s 150 years were when Blues won eight-straight Galbraith Shield titles from 1987 to 1994.

The champion 1987 Blues team was captained by Dave Henderson, the goal kicker was future NRL league player Eion Crossan and a 19-year-old Simon Culhane was at first five-eighth. The team was coached by Roger Ramsay with his assistant Keith Robertson. Ramsay, who sadly died in his 50s, is remembered as one of the club’s finest coaches and personalities.

PHOTOS: ODT FILES
PHOTOS: ODT FILES
Eight years after being key players in the eight titles in a row team, two Southland rugby legends Simon Culhane and David Henderson coached Blues to another Galbraith Shield title in 2003.

Culhane and Henderson took their coaching to a new level when they were at the helm when Southland lifted the Ranfurly Shield in 2009. Henderson was head coach for the Stags when they did it again in 2011.

Blues first five-eighth James Wilson was in the 2009 Shield team that beat Canterbury 9-3 and in the 2011 challenge Wilson kicked a drop goal with three minutes remaining to beat Canterbury 22-19. Wilson is now a key member in the Stags coaching group.

There have been dozens of Blues rugby legends who never represented the province; Daniel Townson is still lining up for the Blues premier team after debuting back in 2002. Townson helped the club to Galbraith Shield titles in 2003 and 2005, and 2019.

Townson played his junior rugby for the club and helped coach Blues junior sides when he was at high school. Townson has served on the club committee for over 10 years.

Another excellent club man over the last quarter century is Sean Colyer, who played over 200 games for Blues’ premier team at first five-eighth, combining in the most part with halfback Sam Muir.

Sam’s brother Ben helps coach the club’s women’s team and their father Gary is a Life Member of the club and is chairman of the 150th Jubilee committee.

The Blues Senior Bs or Premier development, have won multiple titles in their grade as have the Blues Women. The women dominated the competition in early 1990s and have won three titles in the past six years.

The Blues Presidents’ Grade All Stars team has been operating for over 50 years, there their latest title was in 2022.

 - By John Langford