For those of you who are keen rugby supporters, the news that three All Blacks will be coming to Ashburton on August 7 to mix and mingle with fans is pretty exciting.
Each year New Zealand Rugby selects several towns around the country for All Blacks to visit and, lucky for us, Ashburton is one of the towns chosen this time around.
Like many New Zealand towns and cities, rugby in the Ashburton District represents a big part of life outside work – whether you are a member of a local club, play in a social team, follow the All Blacks and a Super Rugby team or you support a family member who plays.
Testament to rugby’s strong popularity here is the fact that the Mid Canterbury Rugby Union’s membership today stands at 2100 members – not an insignificant number when you consider the total population of the district.
Taking a quick stroll down rugby memory lane, the first game of rugby believed to have been played here took place in 1875 between Canterbury and South Canterbury.
Rakaia Rugby Club is our oldest club, formed in 1876 and the first town club was Ashburton, formed in 1878.
The first regular local club competition started as far back as 1882. Needless to say, rugby certainly established firm roots here a very long time ago.
But it is not just rugby that features strongly in our community; it is sport in general.
Mid Canterbury boasts considerable sporting talent and a deeply-engrained sporting culture.
It has grown into a breeding ground for many international sports stars including New Zealand Hockey’s Stacey Carr, cyclists Lauren Ellis and Olympic silver medalist Hayden Roulston, World Cup and World Championship rowers Hamish Bond, Matthew Trott and Duncan Grant as well as famous All Blacks Adam Thompson and Isaac Ross (whose dad, Jock Ross, was also an All Black and his mum a Black Fern), Grant Perry, Dennis Cameron, Tane Norton, Archie McCormick, Lester Rutledge and Maori All Blacks, Paul Williams, Gary Waterreus and Lee McDonald.
Over the years Mid Cantabrians have shone on the national and world stages in swimming, rowing, cycling, netball, athletics, waterskiing, rugby, hockey and the list goes on.
This month local sports heroes Lauren Ellis (cyclist) and John Snowden (rifle shooter), are competing at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Steven Prescott – the sports facility manager at our new EA Networks Centre and a champion swimmer – heads off to the 2014 World Masters Swimming Championships in Canada.
I would like to wish them the very best of luck for the coming weeks.
I encourage you to keep up the great support you give our local sportspeople and keep in mind that many of them – like many in the Mid Canterbury Hammers – work long hours during the week and on top of that do their training after work and on weekends.
Now the Hammers have their Ranfurly Shield challenge out of the way, we all look forward to another top showing in the Heartland Championship.
If you are new to our community, I encourage you to consider joining a local sports club.
It is a really good way to establish a new network of friends and the choice of sports available here for all ages is impressive, from water sports to mountain activities to team and individual sports.
On a final note, young and old, come along to our public event next week and help make sure you give the All Blacks a very special welcome to Ashburton.