Oriental-Rongotai are one of Wellington’s longest-standing clubs with a history dating back to the late 19th century, though the current club was formed by a merger in 1969.
The original Oriental Football Club was founded in 1888 by a group led by Gibby Hill, with the name taken from either that of the boating club of the same name or Hill’s own boat. Adopting a strip of white and black hoops the club soon earned the ‘Magpies’ nickname.
It’s slow and steady beginnings saw a brief period of recess – not uncommon in those early days where entry fees to the WRFU could be steep – but eventually a place in the Senior ranks and eventually the Club Championship in 1910 with the side led by 1905-06 “Originals” All Black Fred Roberts and future 1913 All Black Charlie Gillespie. Oriental survived the war years, but during it no fewer than 40 former players were killed. The interwar years saw lower-grade successes but also relegation for the top side; a return was only achieved in 1938, the year of the clubs 50th Jubilee.
World War II again saw player numbers hit with the senior side joining forces with neighbours Poneke. Wearing Oriental jerseys one week and Poneke ones the next the combined side would win the Jubilee Cup in 1943 and 1944. Following the war the club would win the Hardham Cup in 1947, 1948, and 1956 and record two runner-up finishes in the Jubilee Cup (both to Petone).
The clubs 75th Jubilee was celebrated in 1963 attended by both Gibby Hill (by then 95 years old) and Charlie Gillespie. Gillespie’s “Once an Orie, always an Orie” remains a club rallying cry.
In 1969 the club merged with Rongotai College Old Boys, appending the Rongotai name to their own. RCOB was itself the result of other mergers; Seatoun and a previous Rongotai College club had merged in 1936 with the resulting club in turn amalgamating with Miramar in 1951 to form Eastern Suburbs; Easts then renamed to RCOB in 1964.
At the time Oriental were based in Waitoa Road in Hataitai, playing ‘home’ matches at Hataitai Park which was also used by both Wellington and Marist Brothers. The club decided it needed its own ground to continue to attract and develop youngsters and elected to base themselves at the RCOB ground, the Polo Ground in Miramar, where they remain to this day.
Despite winning the Hardham Cup on three occasions – 1983, 1998, and 2005 Championship success continued to elude Ories until 2011 when it finally won their maiden Jubilee Cup and only the second standalone title in their history (the other being 1910). They also made the final the next two years, but were beaten by Marist St Pats and Tawa in those; the latter in their 125th Jubilee year.
The club has established themselves in the heart of the Miramar community, and draws heavily from the local Pacific Island community and links with both Rongotai and Scots Colleges. In recent years they have also become the pre-eminent Women’s team in the province winning the title in 2014 and 2017, and runners-up in 2015 and 2016.
As Oriental-Rongotai the club boasts four All Blacks: John Gallagher, Ma’a Nonu (twice) and Julian Savea have all won Rugby World Cup titles while part of the Ories club, with Ardie Savea a member of the current squad; additionally Nonu and Ardie Savea have represented New Zealand in 7’s as well. Nonu and the Savea’s are all local products having played for the club as juniors before attending Rongotai College. A number of others have represented other countries including current Manu Samoa player Manu Leiataua, as well as Super Rugby sides and Wellington representative teams.
For more info check out their well maintained website www.ories.org.nz and their Facebook page - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Oriental-Rongotai-Rugby-Club/286842004267 and follow them on Twitter @oriesrugby?