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One of New Zealand's great rugby institutions
Tom Hamilton in Auckland
June 6, 2014
Ponsonby's great clubhouse © Scrum.com
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Lying just off the Great North road sitting fairly innocuously is Ponsonby Rugby Club. Arriving to speak to All Black legend and current director of rugby Bryan Williams, you are unsure whether you have the right place. The home of great New Zealand players Dave Gallaher and Bob Scott and more recently Ali Williams and Carlos Spencer, was hidden away behind a wall of metal fencing with the neighbouring Museum of Transport and Technology more championed by the local signposts.

It seemed tucked away. But what you have in Ponsonby is one of the great rugby institutions in New Zealand. It is a club which contests for the Auckland Premier Division every year and has seen some of the world's top players come and go, inevitably numerous nights toasting wins or losses and possesses a sense of nostalgia rarely found anywhere else in the rugby world.

At the centre of it all is Williams, the club's director of rugby and while he is forever modest, he seems to be the glue that holds it together. He sits atop an odyssey of history.

Ponsonby Rugby Club
The ACDC poster © Scrum.com
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Their ground, the Western Spring Stadium, has only been their home since the mid-1990s but it is shared with the local speedway team - quite how you can get 20 or 30 cars around the track at once is quite beyond me - and resembles a vast amphitheatre. John Allen is the ground's manager and since joining in 2001, he has also seen the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rolling Stones and ACDC play, all in front of 50,000 people. One of his early experiences of stardom was looking after Keith Richards while he was in Auckland and was frequently dispatched to collect cigarettes and chocolate bars for the great rocker, but his time now is spent maintaining the ground and helping the rugby club.

His office is an homage to the past 13 years of his life, all focused around providing for his daughter, with both sides of the Western Spring Stadium represented - a huge, signed ACDC poster takes up the space on one wall with smaller signed Rugby World Cup 2011 posters stationed opposite.

Then there is Susan, the club's manager, who interviewed Williams back in the early 2000s as part of a sports management degree and has been at the club since 2003 and in her current role for the past two and a half years.

Ponsonby Rugby Club
Dave Galleher's 1905 cap © Scrum.com
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The inner-sanctum of the clubhouse features the most incredible collection of All Blacks memorabilia and shirts. George Nicholson's shirt from the original 1905 tour sits in the far corner of the room flanked by Gallaher's cap and other segments of New Zealand's incredible past. Pictures of the 52 All Blacks who have originated from Ponsonby dominate the far wall and they hope to add another if Patrick Tuipulotu gets his chance from the bench on Saturday.

Hugging the rafters are jerseys from around the world with English sides Bath, Gloucester and Leicester represented alongside national jerseys and those from touring sides from Japan and Hong Kong. The well-used bar warns indulgers that alcohol will not be served if you are intoxicated.

It's a mecca for rugby enthusiasts inside the club. "I love this room" was Williams' answer when asked if he ever gets hit by pangs of nostalgia when standing amidst all this history

At the weekend they celebrated 140 years since their inauguration in 1874. England were present and brought them a cake to mark the occasion. At the centre of it all since his first match in 1968 for the club is Williams. "He's Ponsonby, really" was Allen's assessment of the great man but Williams is still eternally humble and proactive in keeping the club going.

He's coached Samoa, played abroad for the All Blacks, held the position of president of the NZRU but it all comes back to this club situated in the midst of Western Springs.

"To me it has always been a home away from home. I was taken with the history and heritage of the club from very early, all the stories of those who had gone before and what it all meant."

Ponsonby's Western Springs Stadium © Scrum.com
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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
WRITER BIO

Tom Hamilton was brought up near the stands of the Recreation Ground and joined ESPN in 2011. He is now Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
Follow him on Twitter @tomESPNscrum