The National Provincial Championship, or NPC, was the major domestic rugby competition in New Zealand. The NPC saw many alterations to its format and brand. Since 2006, it has been replaced by two competitions, the Mitre 10 Cup (originally the Air New Zealand or ITM Cup) and the Heartland Championship.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 Mitre 10 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.
In 1980, there was a change in format. There was no automatic relegation for any team from Division One. Instead, the Division Two North Island and South Island winning teams played each other to determine who played in a promotion/relegation match against the bottom team in Division One.
This 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.
In 1976, the original founded New Zealand Rugby Football Union organised a new provincial competition, unifying the various football unions across New Zealand. This was due to the demand after administered interprovincial matches were only arranged and scheduled for in an independent manner since the 19th century. The National Provincial Championship was established with the inaugural tournament kicked off in May 1976. The football unions were divided into two divisions, a Division One and a Division Two, the latter split into North Island and South Island sub-divisions. The title was awarded to the top-placed team on each division's competition ladder at the end of the season. After ten games in all, Bay of Plenty were crowned the winners, on 18 September 1976. Taranaki remained unbeaten and gained promotion to Division One after finishing first in Division Two.
|Top scorer||Top try scorer|
|Auckland||Auckland||1883||Mitre 10 Cup Premiership||2019||4th||Grant Fox (2,746)||Terry Wright (112)|
|Bay of Plenty||Tauranga||1911||Mitre 10 Cup Championship||2019||1st||Greg Rowlands (1,008)||Graeme Moore (62)|
|Buller||Westport||1894||Heartland Championship||2019||6th||David Baird (575)||Thomas Stuart (44)|
|Canterbury||Christchurch||1879||Mitre 10 Cup Premiership||2019||3rd||Robbie Deans (1,625)||Paula Bale (94)|
|Counties Manukau||Pukekohe||1955||Mitre 10 Cup Premiership||2019||7th||Daniel Love (698)||Alan Dawson (59)|
|East Coast||Ruatoria||1921||Heartland Championship||2019||12th||Elias Manuel (406)||Jim Kururangi (24)|
|Hawke's Bay||Napier||1884||Mitre 10 Cup Championship||2019||2nd||Jarrod Cunningham (998)||Bert Grenside (73)|
|Horowhenua-Kapiti||Levin||1893||Heartland Championship||2019||9th||Craig Laursen (440)||Paul Hirini (69)|
|King Country||Te Kuiti||1922||Heartland Championship||2019||10th||Hutana Coffin (917)||Murray Kidd (46)|
|Manawatu||Palmerston North||1886||Mitre 10 Cup Championship||2019||4th||Jason Holland (641)||Kenneth Granger (66)|
|Mid Canterbury||Ashburton||1904||Heartland Championship||2019||11th||A.H.A. Smith (598)||Geoff Bryant (47)|
|North Harbour||Auckland||1985||Mitre 10 Cup Premiership||2019||5th||Warren Burton (1,052)||Richard Kapa (63)|
|North Otago||Oamaru||1904||Heartland Championship||2019||2nd||Patrick Ford (429)||Pila Fifita (39)|
|Northland||Whangārei||1920||Mitre 10 Cup Championship||2019||6th||Warren Johnston (1,656)||Norman Berryman (71)|
|Otago||Dunedin||1881||Mitre 10 Cup Championship||2019||3rd||Greg Cooper (1,524)||Paul Cooke (71)|
|Poverty Bay||Gisborne||1890||Heartland Championship||2019||8th||Scott Leighton (791)||Patrick Ransley (35)|
|South Canterbury||Timaru||1888||Heartland Championship||2019||7th||Barry Fairbrother (1,048)||Steven Todd (60)|
|Southland||Invercargill||1887||Mitre 10 Cup Championship||2019||7th||Simon Culhane (976)||Bruce Pascoe (46)|
|Taranaki||New Plymouth||1889||Mitre 10 Cup Championship||2019||5th||Kieran Crowley (1,723)||Kieran Crowley (64)|
|Tasman||Nelson||2006||Mitre 10 Cup Premiership||2019||1st||Marty Banks (628)||Robbie Malneek (25)|
|Thames Valley||Paeroa||1922||Heartland Championship||2019||1st||David Harrison (582)||Irvine Campbell (42)|
|Waikato||Hamilton||1921||Mitre 10 Cup Premiership||2019||6th||Matthew Cooper (1,604)||Bruce Smith (70)|
|Wairarapa Bush||Masterton||1886||Heartland Championship||2019||3rd||Patrick Harding-Rimene (561)||Michael Foster (43)|
|Wanganui||Whanganui||1888||Heartland Championship||2019||4th||Bob Barrell (980)||John Hainsworth (48)|
|Wellington||Wellington||1879||Mitre 10 Cup Premiership||2019||2nd||Allan Hewson (909)||Bernie Fraser (105)|
|West Coast||Greymouth||1890||Heartland Championship||2019||5th||Michael Foster (712)||Kenneth Beams (27)|
Past NPC winners
- From 1976 to 1984 there was no third division, and also the second division was divided into North and South Island competitions.
- From 1985 to 2005, there were three divisions, all organised on a nationwide basis.
- From 2006 onward there are 2 divisions of the National Championship, the ITM Cup (Air New Zealand Cup from 2006 through 2009) and Heartland Championship.
- From 2011 onwards, the top Division was split into 2 tiers, based on the 2010 Table after Round Robin play. Teams 1–7 were assigned to the Premiership and teams 8–14 to the Championship, with Promotion/Relegation between the two.
- From 2011 the Heartland Championship is split into two tiers after pool play with the top tier playing for the Meads Cup and bottom tier playing for the Lochore Cup, with Promotion/Relegation between the Meads Cup winner and bottom-placed ITM Cup Championship side.
- In 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic the decision was made not to contest the Heartland championship (Meads/Lochore Cup) to reduce costs to the NZRFU.
List of New Zealand Premiers
1 – Auckland – 17 titles; 2 – Canterbury – 14 titles; 3 – Wellington – 4 titles; 4 – Otago and Waikato and Tasman – 2 titles; 6 – Bay of Plenty, Counties Manukau, Manawatu, Taranaki – 1 title.
- "National Competitions". New Zealand Rugby. 22 March 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
- "Regional rugby". New Zealand History. 22 March 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
- "National Provincial Competition winners, 1976–2014". Te Ara. 22 March 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2020.