Super Rugby as we know it today started back in the 1996 season when the sport officially turned professional.
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In that 1996 Super 12 season, the Blues finished second in the standings, with the Sharks in fourth. There was only one log 24 years ago and no conference system ... how we long for simpler times!
The Blues outclassed third-placed Northern Transvaal 48-11 in their semi-final in Auckland, while the Sharks upset the table-topping Reds 43-25 in Ballymore.
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Despite featuring arguably their strongest ever starting XV - 15 Andre Joubert, 14 James Small, 13 Jeremy Thomson, 12 Dick Muir, 11 Cabous van der Westhuizen, 10 Henry Honiball, 9 Kevin Putt, 8 Gary Teichmann, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Wayne Fyvie, 5 Mark Andrews, 4 Steve Atherton, 3 Adrian Garvey, 2 John Allan, 1 Ollie le Roux - the Sharks fell short (45-21) in the final against a Zinzan Brooke-led Blues side.
Small (13) and Joubert (11) were the top two try-scorers in that inaugural season.
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The Blues would go on to defend their title in 1997 and win again in 2003, while the Sharks are still waiting to taste success having lost in four finals (1996, 2001, 2007, 2012) - the equal most along with the Crusaders and Brumbies.
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The official All Blacks website takes a closer look at the starting XV for the Blues that day - 25 May, 1996.
1 Craig Dowd
Officially Blues player #1, Dowd as part of a formidable front row alongside Fitzpatrick and Brown. Dowd played for Auckland and the Blues, amassing 83 and 64 caps, respectively. Making his All Blacks debut in 1993, Dowd was first choice prop going into the 1995 Rugby World Cup and was a mainstay of the front row, playing 60 Tests and seven matches for the All Blacks. Dowd finished his playing career at the Wasps in the Guinness Premiership. He coached North Harbour in 2009 in the Air New Zealand Cup.
2 Sean Fitzpatrick
Sean Fitzpatrick represented three teams in his career - Auckland, Blues and All Blacks. Playing a remarkable 346 first class matches, Fitzpatrick’s career spanned over a decade, playing his first representative match for Auckland in 1986. With three World Cup appearances, 62 Tests as captain of the All Blacks, two Super Rugby titles and eight National Provincial titles, Fitzpatrick is considered one of the greats. He is one of three players from the 1996 Blues side that has been inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame and is an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
3 Olo Brown
Completing the all-All Blacks Blues front row is the highly regarded Olo Brown. Similar to Fitzpatrick, Brown played all his rugby exclusively in Auckland, debuting for Auckland in the 1980s and becoming a regular in the black jersey in 1992. Brown was the first prop to play 50 Tests for the All Blacks, finishing his career with 56 Tests and 13 matches in black. Despite rugby becoming professional in the latter stages of Brown’s career, he continued to work as a chartered accountant.
4 Robin Brooke
Robin Brooke was the youngest of three Brooke brothers who had a big impact on rugby in New Zealand. Described as a workhorse, Brooke debuted for Auckland in 1987 and played for the union over 15 years. Brooke debuted for the All Blacks in 1992 and was a familiar sight in the second row over eight years. He amassed 62 Tests in black, and after winning two Super Rugby titles with the Blues he captained the side in his last two seasons, 2000 and 2001.
5 Charles Riechelmann
Riechelmann combined with Brooke to form a powerful second row during the 1996 season and was one of the Blues try scorers in the Super Rugby final against Sharks. Riechelmann debuted for Auckland in 1994, and after impressive Super Rugby form was called into the All Blacks in 1997, playing a total of six Tests and four mid-week matches. He won two Super Rugby titles with the Blues and three National Provincial Championships with Auckland.
6 Sir Michael Jones
Another player in the Blues outfit renowned as one of the greats, and to that end has been inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. Jones made his Auckland debut in 1985, scoring three tries in his first outing and announcing himself to the rugby world. Jones scored the first ever Rugby World Cup try in 1987 in what was his All Blacks debut. He went on to play 74 matches in the black jersey and was involved in nine NPC title wins with Auckland, two Super Rugby titles with the Blues and played throughout Auckland’s 64-match Ranfurly Shield defence. Jones retired in 1999, he coached Samoa for four years between 2004 and 2007 and was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2017 for services to the pacific community and youth.
7 Andrew Blowers
A product of Mt Albert Grammar, Andrew Blowers graduated to the Auckland team as a 20-year-old, the same year he represented the New Zealand Colts. Blowers spent three seasons with the Blues and a brief stint at the Hurricanes before signing a contract offshore. That was not before making the All Blacks and debuting as a 21-year-old and playing a total of 18 matches in the black jersey. Blowers finished his playing career in England.
8 Zinzan Brooke (captain)
Captain of the inaugural Super Rugby winners, Brooke paved the way for dynamic forwards, well before it became the norm. Brooke made his provincial debut for Auckland in 1986, a year later he played for the All Blacks Sevens and made his debut for the All Blacks, playing in the Rugby World Cup. It was the first of three World Cup appearances for Brooke, who captained both Auckland and the Blues. During his career he was involved in eight NPC wins and two Super Rugby titles. He scored 17 tries for the All Blacks which at the time was a world record for a forward and scored 150 across his first class career. Brooke moved to England and played five seasons with the Harlequins before retiring after a brief stint at Coventry.
9 Ofisa Tonu’u
A double international, Ofisa ‘Junior’ Tonu’u held the number nine jersey at the Blues throughout their first three seasons. Tonu’u was born and raised in Wellington and after a handful of appearances for the union he was selected for Manu Samoa. When moving to Auckland he switched allegiances to New Zealand and made his All Blacks debut in 1996. Tonu’u won two Super Rugby titles with the Blues and five NPC titles with Auckland. More recently we’ve seen Tonu’u donning pads and gloves, representing Samoa in cricket and as part of the annual Black Clash as Team Rugby’s wicketkeeper.
10 Carlos Spencer
Blues fans will happily declare King Carlos as the GOAT. Part of all three Blues titles, Spencer burst onto the rugby scene as a teenager playing for Horowhenua Kapiti against Auckland in a Ranfurly Shield Challenge. Spencer moved to Auckland and spent a decade playing in the blue and white hoops and almost as long for the Blues. He amassed almost 190 caps across both teams as well as 44 appearances for the All Blacks. Spencer scored 33 points in his All Blacks debut, and left rugby in New Zealand at the end of 2005 for a contract in England. Now, Spencer is the assistant coach of the Hurricanes.
11 Jonah Lomu
While Spencer is regarded as the Blues greatest of all time, Jonah Lomu would arguably hold that title for his exploits around the globe. Lomu burst onto the international rugby scene at the 1994 Hong Kong Sevens and went on to become the youngest ever All Black later that same year. Forming the ‘Blues Brothers’ with fellow Counties Manukau wing Joeli Vidiri, the pair were a handful for any defence, and between them scored 18 tries in the opening Super Rugby season. Lomu’s highlights are too many to list, Super Rugby titles with the Blues, 73 matches for the All Blacks which included his incredible performance at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. He is one of three players from this Blues team to be inducted in the World Rugby Hall of Fame. Lomu tragically passed away in 2015 from a heart attack.
12 Johnny Ngauamo
Johnny Ngauamo picked up one of his three Super Rugby caps by donning the No 12 jersey in the inaugural Super Rugby final. A product of west Auckland, Ngauamo played four seasons for Auckland after making his debut in 1992. 1996 was to be his only Super Rugby stint after which he moved to the northern hemisphere for professional contracts in England and France and while playing there, he gained selection in the Tongan team, earning six international caps. These days Ngauamo is coaching in Australia.
13 Eroni Clarke
Eroni Clarke made his provincial debut for Auckland in 1991 and only a year later was selected for the All Blacks. He played at the top level for 12 seasons, bringing up 154 matches for Auckland - the fifth most in the union’s history. Clarke had four seasons with the Blues before playing for one year down south with the Highlanders. Clarke’s son is now following in his footsteps, representing Auckland and the Blues, and donning the black jersey for the All Blacks Sevens. Clarke has recently been appointed the Pasifika Engagement Manager at New Zealand Rugby.
14 Joeli Vidiri
Such was Joeli Vidiri’s overwhelmingly popularity in the Blues jersey, the imposing wing had a song 'Give me hope Joeli' re-written for him in the late 1990s. Along with his fellow wing Jonah Lomu, Vidiri was a force in the early Blues campaigns and he played six seasons and 61 matches for the side. He played two Tests for the All Blacks and was a member of the 1998 Commonwealth Games winning Sevens side. Vidiri’s career was cruelly cut short due to health reasons.
15 Adrian Cashmore
Born and raised in the Bay of Plenty, Cashmore started his provincial career in blue and gold before shifting to Auckland in 1994. The fullback played 74 matches for Auckland across seven seasons and 47 for the Blues. In that time, he won two Super Rugby titles, two NPC titles and won the Ranfurly Shield twice. Cashmore had a stint in Japan in the early 2000s before returning and finishing his domestic career with Bay of Plenty and the Chiefs. He retired from rugby after two seasons with the Ospreys in Wales.
Tries: Andrew Blowers (2), Carlos Spencer, Charles Riechelmann, Eroni Clarke, Jonah Lomu
Conversions: Adrian Cashmore (3)
Penalties: Cashmore (3)
Tries: Andre Joubert, James Small
Conversion: Henry Honiball
Penalties: Honiball (3)
Referee: Wayne Erickson (Australia)
WHO WINS | Greatest Springbok XV v Greatest All Blacks XV