30 years on from promotion to Division 1

30 years on from promotion to Division 1

Through the late 1970s and 1980s Counties Manukau Rugby enjoyed one of its strongest points and by the late 1990s they were one of the glamour sides of the National Provincial Championship.

But in between those two eras came a short period where the Union struggled and were relegated to the Second Division in 1991.

They spent the 1992 and 1993 seasons playing in the second tier of the NPC.

Having topped the round robin standings in 1992 in their first season in the lower division they ultimately lost the final to Taranaki, who subsequently moved back up to Division 1.

By 1993 the Union was desperate to go one better, but they found the round robin stage tough – with four strong sides separating themselves from the pack on the table.

Counties finished the round robin play in third place behind North Auckland (Northland) and South Canterbury (on for and against) with six wins and two losses on the season.

The Counties team included the likes of Michael Scott and Danny Love in the inside backs, current Union president Gary Millington, Carlos Hasson, Luke Eranavula and Dean Shepherd in the backline and a forward pack that consisted of legends like Errol Brain, Jim Coe, Andrew Roose, the late Henry Maxwell, JJ Atuahiva and Junior Paramore.

Mark Cooksley was the only All Black in the side while the team was coached by Ross Cooper.

They played South Canterbury in the semi-finals and prevailed 33-18 to book a spot in the decider.

Fourth seeds Bay of Plenty upset North Auckland in the semi-finals, setting up a show down between Counties and Bay of Plenty.

Counties had to go to the Bay of Plenty for the decider and the right to move up to the top division in 1994.

They were superb in the final, spanking the home side 38-10 with star winger Luke Eranavula scoring a double and having a huge impact on the game.

“It was a very connected and close team, which we still are today,” Millington said. “The drive to win the probably came from losing the final the previous year to Taranaki and to get Counties back where we belonged in the first division.

“One memory of winning the final was walking into the changing rooms and finding about 30 crayfish and bottles of champagne to celebrate the victory.”