Wanderers last rugby champions

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When Taylors Contracting Wanderers senior rugby team won the Tasman Trophy last month, it ended a lifetime of waiting for six of the club’s most dedicated and long serving supporters.

Stan Friend, Doug Price, Johnny Robinson, Laurie and Barry Reade and Murray Nicholls all played for the Wanderers senior team the last time they won a championship back in 1955. They have followed the club’s fortunes closely over the last 60 years and last week talked to the Waimea Weekly about their glory days. “We were a pretty slick team,” Stan says. “We had some good players but I’d put a lot of it down to our coach Ace Wood. All the teams were playing 10-man rugby back then but Ace got us to run the ball more and it gave us an advantage.”

Doug says Wanderers had a strong team in the early 1950s, finishing second in 1952 just one year after the club was formed by the amalgamation of Pirates and Rovers. The senior team also won the competition in 1954, scoring 184 points and conceding just 70 and one loss to win its first championship.

However, Doug says the name engraved on those trophies, and the Tasman Trophy this year, could have easily been different if they had got their way. “When we amalgamated a lot of the players wanted to call the club United. But the officials said ‘no’ because it sounded too much like a soccer club so they named us Wanderers after an old cricket club that played at Spring Grove.”

Doug says four of their championship winning teams, Johnny, Stan and Selwyn and John Bryant, played for the Nelson representative team with Johnny scoring the winning try in Nelson’s historic 12-6 Seddon Shield victory against West Coast in 1954. Stan says that was a huge occasion with thousands of supporters turning out for a victory parade on the streets of Nelson.

“Rugby was a big thing back then. We’d get big crowds along to our club games, especially against Waimea, and they had 14,000 turn out to the parade for the shield team.”

Although Murray says it’s impossible to compare their championship-winning team with their Tasman Trophy-winning predecessors, they all agree the 1955 version was tougher. “It’s a different game altogether now so you can’t compare the two teams. These young guys are amazing but I think we were harder.”

It seems as though the 1955 team was tougher off the field too enduring cold showers after training at Brightwater and some marathon team bonding sessions after Saturday games.

“When the clubs amalgamated they put an old building from the railway station up on rollers and rolled it up the street to the rugby ground,” Stan says. “It was pretty basic and only had cold showers but it did the trick. We also used to have a dance every second weekend and then go around to someone’s place for a party in between. We’d quite often end up going around to Robinson’s place for breakfast before going home after being out all night.”

Many of the 1955 team have moved away and some have passed on but Stan says there are about 11 surviving members.