The twin histories of the city of Sydney and the sport of Rugby Union in the Southern Hemisphere are inextricably linked. Sydney was the first place in which the game of Rugby was played south of the equator, and probably the first place outside Britain.
From the very first game of Rugby on Australian soil, played at the Hyde Park Ground in 1865, to such occasions as Super Rugby semifinals down the road at the Sydney Football Stadium, Rugby has been synonymous with Sydney and vice-versa.
Sydney University Rugby Club, founded in 1863, is the oldest Rugby club outside of Britain. The NSWRU (The Southern RU) was established in 1874, well before the Unions of Ireland (1879), Wales (1880), South Africa (1889) and New Zealand (1892).
Of the original clubs which took part in the very first club competition of 1874, Sydney University, Balmain (now called Drummoyne), Newington College and The King's School are still in existence.
By 1880, the NSWRU (SRU) controlled in excess of 100 clubs in the metropolitan area and in country NSW, with the senior body, the NSWRU, administering the game in all other areas of the State. The Glebe Club won all grades in that first year.
In 1882, the first NSW team was assembled to play Queensland in a two-match series. NSW won both matches.
Later that year, the first NSW touring team was assembled to travel to New Zealand. The recently created Rotomahana Challenge Trophy, played between NSW and Canterbury, was created in honour of the ship that brought the New South Welshmen to New Zealand on that tour.
During the First World War of 1914-18, both the NSW and Queensland Rugby Unions ceased senior competitions for patriotic reasons and 80% of all NSWRU grade players enlisted. At Gallipoli and on the Somme, many were killed, including Major James MacManamey the President of the NSWRU (1915 Gallipoli). The QRU did not re-form until 1929, so the NSWRU had to carry the flag internationally for Australia and it did so with great distinction.
In 1921 NSW toured New Zealand, winning nine out of 10 matches including the Test. In 1927/28 the NSW Waratahs' triumphant tour of Britain, France and North America ended with a remarkable parade through Sydney and a public reception at the Town Hall. Matches with Queensland resumed in 1929.
The 1930s were a golden age for NSW Rugby, peaking with the defeat of the previously unbeaten Springboks in 1937, 17-6 (5 tries to 1) in a quagmire at the SCG. The South Africans were overwhelmed by the skills and running game of the NSW team.
NSWRU teams performed strongly through the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s thanks to the emergence of many stars of the game. At the forefront of the Union's post-war resurgence were such legendary players as Trevor Allan, David Brockhoff, Tony Miller, Nick Shehadie, Eddie Stapleton, Ken Catchpole, John Thornett, Peter Crittle and Ron Graham. Such was their influence on the game, the vast majority of these fine gentlemen went on to record long careers as administrators, with many continuing right up to this day.
In 1963 the Sydney Rugby Union was formed to administer the growth of the game in the city and enjoyed a long run of successes against visiting international teams.
NSWRU celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1974, with a number of activities planned to mark the occasion. The highlight of these was a visit by the All Blacks, who played a Centenary Match at the Sydney Cricket Ground on 18 May. Unfortunately the visitors refused to follow the script and won the match 20-0.
The Randwick club dominated Sydney club Rugby throughout much of the 1980's, supplying in turn many of the Waratahs finest players, none more so than the Ella brothers, Mark, Glen and Gary. Together they revolutionised backline play, and their influence is still felt today.
Waratah Rugby Park was established in 1987 as a major ground for NSW Rugby and hosted the semi final of the first World Cup in that year.
During the 1990s, the NSW Waratahs entered the Super Six, Super Ten and Super 12 competitions. The Waratahs were also crowned State of the Union Champions (the then title for NSW v Queensland contests) in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998.
Country Rugby continued to flourish, NSW Schools Rugby was a key source of representative players, NSW Suburban Rugby provided the means by which Rugby enthusiasts express their keen desire to play and enjoy the game and NSW Women's Rugby was experiencing great popularity.
However the Super 12 would remain, in the public's eye at least, as the Union's primary focus. Prior to the landmark 2002 season, the Waratahs finished as high as sixth and as low as ninth in the Southern Hemisphere's premier provincial competition.
2002 went a long way to changing perceptions of the team and the Union when, after finishing the regular season in second place, the Waratahs qualified for their first finals series. While the semifinal result wasn't to the liking of many, a renewed sense of optimism and pride had been instilled.
Also during this time, the Union's off-field activities were put under the microscope. After identifying the critical financial state of the Union towards the end of 2000, the Board of Directors appointed a Special Executive Committee (Chaired by John O'Neill) and subsequently obtained a funding arrangement through the Australian Rugby Union in order for NSWRU to survive.
In 2001 the revival process began in earnest and the performance of NSW Rugby in 2001-02 laid a very strong foundation for continued revival. For the process to continue to be successful NSWRU had to reach critical objectives both on and off the field. Simply, the first two major objectives were that the Waratahs perform and must have responsible financial management. The belief was that by fostering these two main objectives on a consistent basis NSWRU would be in a better position to foster and manage the game of Rugby across the state of NSW.
While the team narrowly missed out on a semi-final position in 2003, it was a significant year in many other ways. Not only did The Australian Rugby Union host the Rugby World Cup, but after the full repayment of the $4.6 million loan, governance of the Union was returned to the NSW Board.
A $13 million dollar turnaround was achieved.
2004 saw the beginning of the Ewen McKenzie era. Having replaced Bob Dwyer as head coach, the former Waratah and Wallaby prop instituted sweeping changes, including the implementation of a fully integrated NSW Waratah Academy.
One of McKenzie's most successful moves was to bring back the end of season tour. In taking travelling teams to Argentina in October 2004 and Eastern Europe 12 months later, he not only gifted himself an excellent recruitment tool, but he also gave fringe players a reason to remain in the NSW system. A number of players have won full-time contracts as a result of the tour's re-introduction.
2005 saw the Waratahs truly come of age. Under the leadership of captain Chris Whitaker, the Waratahs won more games than ever before en route to their first appearance in a Super 12 Final. While history will show the result of that cold night in Christchurch didn't go the Waratahs way, the platform for a successful future had been laid.
2006 saw the Waratahs once again at the forefront of what was by now called the Super 14 following the introduction of the Western Force and the Cheetahs of South Africa. After a high quality campaign the Waratahs finished the regular season in third position to qualify for their second straight semifinals appearance. Unfortunately for McKenzie, Whitaker and the team the Waratahs went down to the Hurricanes in a highly competitive and at times controversial semifinal, played at Wellington's Westpac Stadium.
The loss marked the end of a glittering career at the Waratahs for Whitaker, who left as the highest capped player in NSW Rugby history. His 118 matches for his state remains a record.
The 2007 Waratahs began the second season of Super 14 full of confidence after two straight Finals appearances. Pre-season injuries to Daniel Vickerman, Alex Kanaar and Matt Dunning were shrugged off as the Waratahs opened their year with a good win at altitude in Johannesburg. However the season would soon turn for the team, who lost new skipper Phil Waugh to a long term ankle injury in round three. They would win just two more games, against the Reds and Hurricanes, while the round five clash with the Western Force finished in a draw. Crucially, the Waratahs lost six games by seven points or less on the way to a 13th placed finish.
2008 was a stellar year for the HSBC Waratahs. Finishing second in the regular season they went on to meet the Crusaders in the Final in Christchurch. The home team won the title 20-12 in a thrilling match.
Chris Hickey came in as the new head coach in 2009 and despite finishing with a 9-4 win-loss record, the Tahs missed out on the semi-finals on points difference. They took the same win-loss record in 2010 however a stronger attacking year led to more bonus points and a semi-final against the Stormers however they could not overcome the Cape Town side at Newlands.