Celebrating New Zealand Rugby’s 125 Years

Some of the key moments that have shaped rugby in New Zealand.

Celebrating 125 Years

Scroll through the our interactive timeline to learn more. Click on the gold circles to see extra information and test your knowledge as you go.

Established in April 1892

As part of our 125th birthday celebrations, we’ve collected together some of the key moments that have shaped rugby and New Zealand Rugby, including events leading up to our formation and where we’re heading next.


The Rise of Rugby

In the 20 years following the introduction of the Rugby rules to New Zealand, the game expanded rapidly. By 1890 there had been 700 clubs, the first All Blacks side had assembled, the Natives had embarked on their history-making tour of the Northern Hemisphere, international sides had toured and the game itself was evolving.

Moments in history

In 1882, which Australian team came to New Zealand and played seven matches against provincial sides?

  • Answer: A, The Southern Rugby Union of New South Wales was the first international side to play in New Zealand. They won four matches, scored 42 points and conceded 40.
  • The Southern Rugby Union of New South Wales
  • The Queensland Rugby Union
  • The Tasmanian Rugby Football Union

A New Era

With the formation of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union in 1892, rugby entered a new era. The game grew in popularity, the importance of referees was recognised and the Colony got its first Champions.   

Moments in history

In 1895 NZR took the initiative in calling a Conference of Athletic Governing Bodies. What was the result of that Conference?

  • Answer: C, on payment of a small fee, athletic bodies could obtain legal status.
  • A decision that all New Zealand teams would henceforth wear black.
  • Conflict between assorted Athletic Governing Bodies over professional regulations.
  • Legislative change allowing athletic bodies to obtain legal status on registration.


A strong provincial game – with a new trophy – underpinned confident participation on the international stage by all our national teams, while the formation of the Māori All Blacks reflected the unique and invaluable contribution of Māori to the growth of the game.

Moments in history

How many players were initially considered for selection in the 21-man 1905 All Blacks squad?

  • Answer: A, 53. NZR Selectors identified a list of 50 players, which was then supplemented by an extra three names.
  • 53
  • 24
  • 32

Provincial Unions established

1904 North Otago

1909 Waikato

1911 Bay of Plenty


The First World War

Rugby, like everything else in New Zealand, was affected by the First World War. Today there are countless reminders throughout rugby of the contribution of clubs and players during the war and the effect that the conflict had on our game, as players enlisted and administrators, volunteers and club funds were all diverted to the war effort.  To find out more about how rugby is commemorating the First World War, visit nzrugby.co.nz/ww100

All Blacks killed in WW1

  • Doolan Downing – 8 August 1915
  • Norkey Dewar – 19 August 1915
  • Frank Wilson – 19 September 1916
  • Bobby Black – 21 September 1916
  • Jim Baird – 7 June 1917
  • George Sellars – 7 June 1917
  • Reg Taylor – 20 June 1917
  • Jim McNeece – 21 June 1917
  • Dave Gallaher – 4 October 1917
  • Jum Turtill – 9 April 1918
  • Eric Harper – 30 April 1918
  • Ernie Dodd – 11 September 1918
  • Jimmy Ridland – 5 November 1918

Moments in history

Over the winter of 1916-17 the elite footballers of the New Zealand Division played seven matches against similar teams made up of military men and amassed 292 points. How many points did they concede?

  • Answer: C, 9. The New Zealand Division won all seven matches, the closest being a 3-0 victory over their Welsh counterparts in Belgium.
  • 163
  • 127
  • 9

Making Progress

Rugby made a strong recovery from the effects of the War, with player numbers growing significantly over the next 10 years. The Invincibles and Maori All Blacks enhanced the reputation of New Zealand rugby internationally, rugby reached a broader audience and our rivalry with South Africa kicks off.

Provincial Unions Established

1922 Northland
1921 East Coast
1922 King Country
1922 Thames Valley
1927 Mid Canterbury (as Ashburton County)


Moments in History

Which All Black became the first player to be sent off in a Test?

  • Answer: Cyril Brownlie against England at Twickenham in January 1925
  • Jock Richardson
  • Cyril Brownlie
  • George Nepia

Full steam ahead

It started with the British & Irish Lions returning to our shores and featured a return visit to the British Isles in 1935, but this was a decade in which we strengthened our ties with southern rivals: Australia, the Pacific, and South Africa, and it ended under the shadow of global conflict. Meanwhile the game itself was changing, with the retirement of the wing forward position and a three-man front row revolutionising the New Zealand scrum.

Moments in history

In what year were provincial matches played with 45-minute spells?

  • Answer: C, In 1937 matches between provincial sides went for 90 minutes
  • 1931
  • 1934
  • 1937

The Second World War

When New Zealand was drawn into international conflict for the second time in the Century, rugby players, supporters and communities were again affected. Seven All Blacks died during the War but rugby thrived as New Zealanders, both at home and away, kept playing the game.

All Blacks killed in WW2

  • Don Cobden – 11 August 1940
  • Jim Wynyard – 2 November 1941
  • Arthur Wesney – 23 November 1941
  • Cyril Pepper 31 May 1943
  • Jack Harris – 19 May 1944
  • George Hart – 3 June 1944
  • Bill Carson – 8 October 1944

Moments in history

In order to save money and because of severe travel restrictions imposed by coal shortages, NZR could not hold its Annual General Meeting in how many years during the War?

  • Answer: C, the NZR AGM was held on Thursday 2 May 1940 in Wellington and delegates did not meet again until in person until Thursday 2 May 1946. Votes were conducted by post throughout this time.
  • One
  • Four
  • Six


Rugby understandably went on the backburner during the Second World War, but rugby acted as a salve to many in its immediate aftermath, especially through the feats of the 1945-46 touring side that became known as the ‘Kiwis.’ Through the often-challenging next decade, New Zealand rugby regenerated and the All Blacks finally defeated the Springboks in a Test series in 1956.


Moments in history

What was the Test series result, when the 1956 Springboks’ toured New Zealand?

  • Answer: 3-1 All Blacks
  • 3-1 All Blacks
  • 2-2
  • 3-1 Springboks

Provincial Unions established

1955: Counties Manukau logo

The Tom French Cup


The World Comes to Us

The world was ever-changing, and New Zealand felt the positive effects of this state of flux. There was also an awakening of a social conscience after the All Blacks’ third tour of South Africa without Maori or brown-skinned players. The coaching of Fred Allen, exemplified with the great Auckland side of the early 1960s, was in further evidence from 1966-68 at the helm of the All Blacks, undefeated through that time.

Moments in history

Who captained the 1965 All Blacks against the Springboks?

  • Answer: B, Wilson Whineray, who retired after the series.
  • John Graham
  • Wilson Whineray
  • Kel Tremain


New Zealanders had been playing rugby for a century, but there was still the opportunity for many firsts in the game, including an abbreviated form of rugby, a weekly magazine, live TV coverage, an organised provincial competition and first-time inbound tours by several nations. Meanwhile, the All Blacks achieved a special first when they headed to the United Kingdom and Ireland in 1978.

Moments in history

At which ground was the famous 1975 ‘Waterpolo Test’ between the All Blacks and Scotland?

  • Answer: B, Eden Park, which was partially under water after heavy rain
  • Athletic Park
  • Eden Park
  • Carisbrook


Rugby endured the heartache of the 1981 Springboks’ tour, but by end of the decade Rugby World Cup 1987 – the first of its kind – began to bring people back together. The All Blacks finished the decade in superb touch, underpinned by a competitive domestic game and the greatest Ranfurly Shield reign began.

Moments in history

Against which team were the ‘Baby Blacks’ christened in 1986?

  • Answer: C, France, who were defeated 18-9 in Christchurch
  • Australia
  • Wales
  • France


The 1990s saw more change for the game of rugby than we had seen in 120 years, both globally and in New Zealand. Rugby finally entered the ‘open’ era of professionalism, while the All Blacks Sevens and women’s rugby made huge strides. Jonah Lomu shook up the world with his feats in 1995.

Moments in history

Who retired in 1994 having scored more tries in all games for the All Blacks than any other player?

  • Answer: A, Kirwan, who finished with 67 from 96 games
  • John Kirwan
  • Terry Wright
  • Craig Green


The 2000s again saw great change in rugby, with provincial competitions being extensively reviewed. The reclaiming of the Bledisloe Cup in 2003, dominant national teams and a successful DHL NZ Lions Series and the awarding of the rights to Rugby World Cup 2011 were among the highlights – but then there were the disappointments of losing the rights to Rugby World Cup 2003, the early exit from RWC 2007 and the challenges of the global financial crisis.

Moments in history

In 2008, New Zealand Rugby announced the retrospective capping of All Blacks who had not received their Test caps between 1946 and 1995. Who was the first All Black to be so capped?

  • Answer: A, Fred Allen. At the 2008 Steinlager Rugby Awards, NZR capped one player from each of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Fred Allen represented the 1940s.
  • Fred Allen
  • Wilson Whineray
  • Buck Shelford
2010 onwards

Inspiring and unifying

It has been an incredible decade so far for rugby. Through hard times and great times, rugby has been there, with increasing awareness of the part we can play on the international stage.

Moments in history

In what year did Investec Super Rugby replace the Super 14?

  • Answer: The addition of the Melbourne Rebels and expanded playoffs were amongst the changes when Super Rugby went live in 2011.
  • 2010
  • 2011
  • 2016
Start  1870-1891  1892-1899  1900-1913  WW1  1919-1929  1930-1939  WW2  1946-1959  1960-1969  1970-1979  1980-1989  1990-1999  2000-2009  2010-