National Provincial Championship

The National Provincial Championship, or NPC, is the major domestic rugby competition in New Zealand. The NPC has seen many alterations to its format and brand. Since 2006 the National Championship has been split into 2 competitions, the ITM Cup (originally the Air New Zealand Cup) and the Heartland Championship. From the 2011 Season, the top Division was split into two tiers based on the 2010 Table after Pool Play. Teams 1-7 were assigned to the Premiership and teams 8-14 to the Championship. There is automatic Promotion/Relegation between the two tiers and also "crossover" matches, as well as full Round Robin Matches within each tier. The Heartland Championship is also split into two tiers after pool play with the top tier playing for the Meads Cup and bottom tier playing for the Lochore Cup. Currently all 26 of New Zealand's Provincial Unions participate in either the Air New Zealand Cup or Heartland Championship. The NPC was first contested in 1976, and although the basic format of Division One was much the same from then until the 2006 reorganisation, there were a number of changes to the lower divisions.

Initially, Division One was made up of 11 teams, 7 from the North Island and 4 from the South. The remaining unions contested a split Division Two, with teams from each island playing amongst themselves. The bottom placed Division One team from the South Island played the winner of the Southern Division Two to determine whether they switched divisions, whilst the bottom placed Division One team from the North Island was automatically relegated, switching places with the winner of the Northern Division Two.

The format continued until 1985, when the split Division Two was replaced by a united Division Two and a Division Three. The top and bottom placed teams in each division were automatically promoted and relegated each year.

In 1992, three teams from Division One were relegated so there were 9 teams in each division. Also, 1992 saw the introduction of semi-finals and a final to determine the champion in each division—previously, a league system had been used.

Auckland were the most successful team in the NPC championship, having won 15 of the 30 series.

The only change before 2006 was in 1998, when the number of teams in each division was changed to 10 in Division One, 9 in Division Two, and 8 in Division Three. Having an even number of teams in Division One removed the necessity for byes. Starting that year, automatic promotion/relegation between the top two divisions was ended. In its place, the winner of Division Two played a promotion-relegation match against the bottom club in Division One to determine whether the clubs would switch places. Through 2002, this match was hosted by the bottom team in Division One, but the site was changed in 2003 to the home field of the Division Two champion.

Read more about National Provincial Championship:  Past NPC Winners, See Also

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