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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.
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.
Games involving kicking and passing have been played for centuries in different forms and when colonisation kicked in, settlers brought those traditions with them. How then, did New Zealand end up with rugby?
It took a while for the rules to be agreed between the different schools and organisations in England many of whom had their own games but by the 1860s the rules set out by Rugby School had gained prominence and started spreading beyond England. However, different teams, Unions and countries would continue to play slightly different versions of the Rugby rules for decades. Charles Monro studied in London in the late 1860s and on returning to New Zealand (where his father was a member of the House of Representatives and later knighted), Charles suggested to the Nelson Football Club that they try playing under the Rugby rules. They did and in May 1870, the first rugby match was held in New Zealand.
While there have been various claims put forward identifying that rugby may have been played elsewhere earlier – with some justification – the most-reliable and comprehensive evidence supports the presumption that it was Nelson and 1870 that saw the first game.
Later that year Monro arranged a match at Petone for the Nelson Club team against a Wellington selection – the first inter-district match in New Zealand. On the Saturday prior to the match, Monro covered 10 miles by foot looking for an appropriate venue. Two days later, having recruited and coached the Wellington players as well, Monro took the field of play as a Nelson player – and refereed the game.
Today, the Charles Monro Volunteer of the Year Award is presented annually at the national rugby awards, so named to honour the man credited with starting a national obsession.
Use of the referee’s whistle became widespread in 1884, with Christchurch referees generally credited with introducing the innovation, for which they used a dog whistle.
In 1882, which Australian team came to New Zealand and played seven matches against provincial sides?
In 1888, the New Zealand Natives assembled.
Joe Warbrick, of Ngāti Rangitihi, who had played his first first-class game when he was 15 and was also one of the 19 players selected for the first New Zealand team in 1884, assembled and led the 1888 Natives.
Significantly, it was the Natives who first introduced a pre-match Haka to a foreign audience and adopted specialised positions for forwards rather than the first to arrive, first down practice (an innovation previously and erroneously credited to the 1905- 06 All Blacks) and it was the Natives who first wore black jerseys.
New Zealand formally adopted a points value for goals and tries, with most Clubs having adopted points scoring as early as 1875. The values awarded, however, did vary across the country and Otago maintained the England’s Rugby Football Union system. The RFU did not adopt the innovation until 1886.
Born in 1864, Ernest ‘Denny’ Hoben was the driving force behind the foundation of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union in 1892.
In the 1890s Hoben was the Secretary of the Hawke’s Bay Union and had previously been actively involved with rugby in the Bay of Plenty. Hoben travelled extensively around New Zealand throughout 1891 and early 1892, consulting with the Provincial Unions, canvassing opinion and gathering support for a national body. He convened many of the early meetings and was the first Honorary Secretary of the Union.
Hoben was born in Auckland, but spent part of his childhood in New South Wales before relocating to the Bay of Plenty. Alongside his heavy rugby involvement, he was an active print journalist working for high-profile newspapers including The Evening Post, The Sydney Mail and the New Zealand Times. He later returned to Australia, where he died in Melbourne on his 54th birthday.
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.
Following the November 1891 Conference, delegates from Wellington, Hawke’s Bay, Otago, Canterbury, Manawatu, Wairarapa and Taranaki assembled at the Club Hotel in Wellington (the Hotel no longer stands) to vote on the motion “That in the opinion of this meeting it is desirable that a New Zealand Rugby Union should be formed”.
The motion passed successfully. Marlborough, Nelson, Wanganui and South Canterbury all endorsed the motion but did not send delegates. However, Canterbury, Otago and Southland Unions declined to join the Union and repudiated any involvement, citing variously, their distance from Wellington and difficulties with travel, their satisfaction with the status quo and concerns about the proposed constitution.
Ernest Hoben had supplied minutes of the November Conference and the proposed Constitution to the Unions ahead of their own Annual General Meetings to allow them to consider the proposal in more detail.
It was agreed that a national union was required to:
In 1893, players were nominated for the first national side selected under the aegis of the New Zealand Rugby Union.
The team ventured to Australia, where they faced sides from New South Wales and Queensland. Their record was impressive: 10 matches played with nine wins and 168 points scored, while just 44 were conceded – 25 of these coming in a heavy loss to the New South Wales side.
Players from Canterbury, Otago and Southland were not eligible for selection in that team, having not affiliated with the national body.
In 1895 NZR took the initiative in calling a Conference of Athletic Governing Bodies. What was the result of that Conference?
Referees are a vital part of rugby and like the rest of the game, their role and importance has changed over time. In May 1896, referees assembled in Wellington for their first conference, determined to ensure a uniform reading of doubtful points in the Laws of the Game.
Resolutions were submitted to both NZR and the RFU, who were the guardians of the Laws of the Game at that time.
The outcomes of the Conference included:
Throughout the decade, the role of the referee was given greater consideration by the national body – with poor-quality refereeing seen as one of the biggest risks to rugby.
Referees Associations continued to be established throughout the 1890s and were seen as essential to ensuring the quality of refereeing.
In 1900, Auckland were acclaimed as the first Champions of the Colony on the basis of their results in 1899.
Auckland toured the country, taking on – and beating – Otago, Wellington and Taranaki, while their visit to Christchurch to play Canterbury saw them come away with a 3-3 draw.
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.
The Ranfurly Shield is one of the oldest rugby trophies in the world, and was first presented by the Earl of Ranfurly, New Zealand’s Governor-General and Patron of New Zealand Rugby to the national organisation, in 1902. With a long and colourful history behind it, the Ranfurly Shield is arguably the most treasured trophy in New Zealand sport. It is often fondly known as “the log o’ wood”.
Contested between New Zealand’s provincial representative teams, it is a challenge trophy, meaning that a challenger must defeat the holder, usually on the holder’s home ground, to claim the Ranfurly Shield.
The first Ranfurly Shield match took place in 1904. Auckland had been presented with the Shield on account of their superior 1903 record but lost the new trophy to challenger Wellington in that first match. Decades later, Auckland compiled one of the most impressive streaks in New Zealand sports history, successfully defending the Shield in 61 consecutive matches between 1985 and 1993.
Combined British sides visited twice during this decade: in 1904 and 1908 further strengthening the ties between New Zealand and the Home Unions.
In 1904, the British team then on tour in Australia detoured briefly to New Zealand for five matches, losing three and drawing one. The tour included a one-off Test match in Wellington at Athletic Park, marking the start of a 38-Test rivalry between the All Blacks and the team that would become known as the British & Irish Lions.
Four years later another team, styled at the time as the Anglo-Welsh and comprised of 28 players, became the third British side to tour New Zealand. That tour consisted of 18 games, including three Test matches and the Lions side lost to Auckland, Canterbury, Otago, Taranaki and Wellington. In the Tests, a draw prevented an All Blacks whitewash but the 29-0 loss remains one of the Lions’ worst results and the nine tries scored by the New Zealanders remains, as of April 2017, the most scored in an All Blacks v Lions game.
How many players were initially considered for selection in the 21-man 1905 All Blacks squad?
What is now known as Rugby League was introduced into New Zealand in 1907, following the breaking away from the Rugby Football Union of the Northern Union.
This led to a difficult period for rugby organisations, where League organisers sought to recruit players from amongst their ranks. The favoured responses were harsh, punitive measures taken against players going over, including expulsion.
All Blacks, like Charles “Bronco” Seeling were tempted by the prospect of being paid to play and embarked on careers with clubs in the United Kingdom.
In 1908, the first University side was assembled and ventured to New South Wales to take on the University of Sydney. The team lost all three matches, but gained its first win in 1909.
1904 North Otago
1911 Bay of Plenty
Such was the success of the tour and the popularity of the Originals team that the New Zealand government paid for the team’s return home via North America in January 1906, laying the groundwork for a long-standing relationship with the USA.
The Originals played an exhibition match in New York and two official matches against British Columbia at the University of California in Berkeley. Then in 1913, a New Zealand team returned to the USA and Canada, playing sixteen matches in California and British Columbia.
In 2016, Chicago hosted the Rugby Weekend, an international rugby header in which the Maori All Blacks played the USA and the All Blacks faced Ireland, with the Irish gaining their first win over the All Blacks in their 111-year history.
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
At all levels, rugby players, administrators and communities responded to the outbreak of the war.
NZR called off fixtures it controlled, such as international tours, the interisland game and Ranfurly Shield challenges and said rugby had to do everything it could to encourage players to enlist. There was pragmatism as well as patriotism in the decision: it was also felt early on that there was no longer the public appetite for rugby, with NZR noting in its Annual Report that ‘owing to the outbreak of the war the interest in the third Test match [in Australia in 1914] was not sustained and the financial results were consequently very much affected’.
It was up to Provincial Unions whether they continued to hold matches. Some restricted play to age grade and schoolboy teams and to ‘ineligibles’. Some organised games “for the purpose of keeping fit those who have not yet been able to have their services availed of by the Empire,” as NZRFU President George Mason put it.
One administrator of the time, Edgar Wylie, summed up the prevailing attitude at the national union’s annual meeting in 1915: “The plums of rugby should not be open to those who remain behind. While the men were fit to play rugby, they were fit to go to the front.” The Management Committee also agreed to favourably consider applications from local affiliated Unions for the removal of suspensions imposed upon any player who has signed up for active service, so that players under suspension who had enlisted could join in camp games (this did not, however, include suspensions given to players who had switched to rugby league).
Efforts were made to determine total donations to various patriotic funds as well as the total number of players who had volunteered for service, but this information was not readily procurable. Later, at the annual meeting in May 1918, it was reported that ‘in its wider operations the game has undoubtedly been severely hampered. Lack of senior players and lack of funds has imposed a considerable handicap upon every Union in the Dominion and it to their very great credit that, in the face of unexampled difficulties, they have still carried on’. President George Spriggens went on to comment: “Rugby players were deserving of very high praise for the noble manner in which they had responded to their country’s call.”
It was also noted that rugby had ‘unmistakeably asserted its pre-eminence over all rival codes. Throughout the war period, it has been universally favoured by the military authorities and has become the generally recognised test in international athletics… it would be most unwise to take any steps calculated to upset or interfere with the existing inter-national uniformity’.
For more information about the impact of war on rugby, see Clive Akers’ book ‘Balls, Bullets and Boots’ published in association with the New Zealand Rugby Museum exhibition of the same name.
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?
Tom French made a massive, decades-long contribution to Maori rugby, despite having lost his left arm fighting at Passchendaele. French, who represented Buller at a provincial level, played for the Maori All Blacks in 1910 and 1913. After the War, he became an administrator (including service on the Maori Advisory Board 1922, 1955-58) and performed various management and selection roles with the Maori All Blacks throughout the 1940s and 1950s. He was made a New Zealand Rugby Life Member in 1957 for services to the game and to Maori rugby generally
The Tom French Cup has been presented to the Maori Player of the Year each year since 1949 and is the oldest trophy presented at New Zealand Rugby’s annual Rugby Awards. The Cup was presented in 1949 by Mr J. Morris of Sydney, following the Maori All Blacks tour that year of Australia.
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.
In 1919, the New Zealand Services team, made up of servicemen remaining in France and the United Kingdom following the First World War, played a number of matches against national military sides, including English, Canadian, Australian and South African forces teams. The Kings Cup for competition between those Imperial serving forces, had been presented by King George V and was won by the New Zealand team, who were victorious in five out of six matches.
The Services side then toured France and South Africa. Eleven members of the Services team were later named as All Blacks.
1921 East Coast
1922 King Country
1922 Thames Valley
1927 Mid Canterbury (as Ashburton County)
In 1922 the Māori Advisory Board was formed and the Māori All Blacks assembled for the first time under New Zealand Rugby jurisdiction. In 1926-27 the Māori All Blacks set off on an epic tour of New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), France, Great Britain and Canada.
The team played 40 matches and won 30 of them, including a 12-3 win over France in Paris. Māori players were later excluded from the 1928 All Blacks tour of South Africa.
Which All Black became the first player to be sent off in a Test?
In 1926 New Zealanders got to hear radio commentary of a rugby match for the first time. The Christchurch v High School Old Boys club match was called by Alan Allardyce from Christchurch.
1920: 20,064 players
1929: 32,000+ players
In 1921 the All Blacks and Springboks faced off for the first time. The South African side played 19 matches in total against the All Blacks, Maori All Blacks and provincial sides. The three-match Test series was drawn 1-1, with the third Test a 0-0 draw in Wellington. Canterbury was the only team apart from the All Blacks to beat the visitors.
In 1928 the All Blacks returned the visit, with a 23-match tour, of which the All Blacks claimed 17 wins. Four Tests were played and as in 1921 the Series was drawn, this time 2-2. The New Zealand touring party did not include any Maori players.
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.
After an 18-year absence, Australia returned to New Zealand with the combined side drawn from players in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. In recognition of the relationship between the two countries, a new cup was introduced that would become one of the most precious in world rugby: the Bledisloe Cup.
The trophy was presented by His Excellency, the Right Honourable Baron Bledisloe, who was Governor-General of New Zealand at the time.
For the first time, a century of provincial matches was reached, with 101 games played.
At its Annual General Meeting in April, NZR agreed upon a revised scrum formation. Gone was the unique 2-3-2 formation – New Zealand was the only country to play like this – and in its place, came a three-man front row, bringing us in line with other rugby-playing countries. The change was driven largely by changes to the international Laws of the Game, which disadvantaged New Zealand hookers.
The wing forward position was also abolished, with a view to increasing the amount of open play.
In what year were provincial matches played with 45-minute spells?
South Africa returned to New Zealand on an eagerly-awaited tour. They played 17 matches in all, winning all but one and claiming the Series against the All Blacks 2-1. The 1938 Almanack provided little narrative about the tour, noting that the record speaks for itself.
The visitors scored 411 points, conceding just 104. The NZR noted that interest in rugby was at a record high following the tour and ‘with the determination and the spirit to profit from the lessons to be learned
Plans for a tour to South Africa in 1940 were cancelled following the outbreak of War. At the 1940 Annual General Meeting, NZR announced that it was of the opinion that no overseas tours should be considered during the war, but that rugby should continue to be played.
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.
Where rugby was in many parts of the country suspended during the First World War, during the Second, rugby flourished during the Second, playing a role in keeping soldiers fit and healthy, entertaining those at home and raising funds for the War effort.
As in the First World War, NZR called off fixtures it controlled, such as international tours, and Ranfurly Shield challenges with a view to not discouraging recruitment but unlike 1914-18, NZR was strongly committed to keeping the game going, wherever possible, seeing significant opportunities arising out of the involvement of services teams in domestic competition.
In its 1941-42 Annual Report, NZR reported that ‘we are proud to know that our players, both Pakeha and Maori, are so strongly represented in our fighting forces’ and at the end of the war noted ‘the standard of play generally, although it has not been of the highest during the war years has produced good games and with the experience gained by our players on the playing grounds throughout the world, must enhance the standard materially.’
Matches were held throughout New Zealand to raise funds to supply sporting equipment to soldiers fighting overseas, including events like the North Island v South Island Services matches which raised significant funds for the National Patriotic Fund.
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?
NZR’s 50th birthday could not be marked in 1942 due to the War and plans to do so – which included plans for a celebratory picnic – were repeatedly deferred in the years following the end of the conflict.
The 50th Jubilee did see a complete History of Rugby Football in New Zealand produced to mark the milestone. This work, by A.C. Swan remains one of the definitive and most comprehensive collections of historical information about rugby in this country. The book’s publication was delayed until 1948 ‘in view of the high cost of printing and publishing such a book and on account of the uncertainty of world affairs’.
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.
A remarkable tour of the UK and Europe took place between October 1945 and August 1946.
The Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) rugby team of 29 was formed after orders from General Bernard Freyberg, who had encouraged the men to continue playing rugby when possible during the war. Captained by former All Black Charlie Saxton, and containing 16 who would go on to wear the black jersey, including the great Bob Scott, they won 32 of 38 matches, and wowed the crowds with their open style of rugby.
Recent picks for an All Blacks annus horribilis might look to 1998 (five consecutive defeats) or 2009 (four losses, including three to the Springboks).
But those with longer memories will surely count September 3, 1949 as New Zealand rugby’s darkest day, when two All Blacks sides were beaten.
At Athletic Park, the Johnny Smith-captained All Blacks lost 11-6 to Australia. Hours later, a full-strength All Blacks were defeated 9-3 by the Springboks in Durban.
Funnily enough, that was not the last time two All Blacks games were played on the same day. In 1970, two separate All Blacks sides, on their way to South Africa, played a President’s XV and Western Australia respectively in Perth. Both games were won by 50 points.
What was the Test series result, when the 1956 Springboks’ toured New Zealand?
The 1950 Lions had given some entertaining moments in their 3-0 Test series defeat to the All Blacks.
But after the intense, some might say over-hyped, nature of the 1956 Springboks tour, New Zealand rugby was in dire need of some rugby that brought joy to the hearts rather than a grim fear of defeat.
Enter the 1959 Lions, who brought with them some of the finest attacking backs this country has seen. The sheer joie de vivre of men like Bev Risman, Dickie Jeeps, Tony O’Reilly, Peter Jackson and Ken Scotland captured the minds and, in some cases, the hearts of staunch New Zealand fans. They lost the final Test 3-1 but their 9-6 victory in the final Test was loudly cheered.
1955: Counties Manukau logo
In 125 years of New Zealand Rugby history, there has surely never been a more keenly anticipated tour than that of the 1956 Springboks to these shores.
Undefeated for 60 years in any Test series, and having beaten the All Blacks 2-1 in 1937, the Springboks held the mantle of the world’s best team. But, in a fiercely contested series, the All Blacks triumphed 3-1 thanks to an 11-5 victory in the fourth Test at Eden Park. Peter Jones’ winning try has gone down in rugby lore. That Eden Park crowd of 61,240 remains the largest to ever witness a game of rugby in New Zealand.
The All Blacks themselves did not win a Test series in South Africa until 1996.
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.
The All Blacks were on the verge of making their third tour of South Africa.
Again, there were to be no Maori players invited, at the behest of the South African Rugby Board. But, unlike in 1928 and 1949, when the New Zealand rugby public and the public at large generally acquiesced to the edicts, this time there were protests. New Zealanders were growing a public conscience.
The All Blacks still toured under the captaincy of Wilson Whineray, though they again fell 2-1 with one match drawn in the Test series against the Springboks.
By 1970, on their next visit, the All Blacks did include Maori and players of colour, though in the Republic they were classified as ‘honorary whites.’
Rugby first connected Japan and New Zealand in the 1930s, when the New Zealand Universities side toured there – and were unbeaten in seven matches – and in 1968 Japan visited us for the first time, playing provincial sides and the Junior All Blacks, who the Brave Blossoms beat in Christchurch.
Aucklander Fred Allen was a former All Blacks first five and no-nonsense coach who revolutionised rugby in the 1960s.
The previous decade saw forward-oriented, stilted rugby in vogue, but Allen guided his Auckland side to a record-breaking Ranfurly Shield era from 1960-63 espousing his 15-man rugby ideals.
By 1966 he was at the helm of the All Blacks, and taking them to new heights against the Lions (1966), Australia (1967-68), the northern tour (1967) and France (1968). He stepped down with an unblemished international record. Fred was known as ‘The Needle’ and remained a keen and astute observer of the game until his death in 2012.
Who captained the 1965 All Blacks against the Springboks?
The All Blacks were scheduled to tour South Africa in 1967, but it never happened.
It had been agreed in 1962 at a World Rugby meeting on the Laws of the Game that only ‘fully representative’ New Zealand teams would tour, meaning Maori players would be included – to which South African rugby delegates at the time agreed.
However further changes in the political landscape in South Africa meant that in 1967, when a fresh tour was being considered, Maori players would not be welcomed. NZR decided to cancel the tour, a decision supported by World Rugby. The All Blacks went to Britain instead.
Since it was established in 1969, the New Zealand Rugby Museum has fulfilled an important function in the rugby landscape.
Not only a repository for wide-ranging pieces of memorabilia and information, it also tells the story of rugby and, specifically, rugby in New Zealand, while safeguarding the history and the heritage of the game.
By 1977, it was open for public visits in Palmerston North and has remained in the city, despite two relocations. The Museum is now housed in the Te Manawa complex and has in excess of 40,000 items, making it possibly the leading sports museum in New Zealand. It has a strong online and global presence and is a haven for rugby lovers and tourists.
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.
Media and rugby have always been close – if not always friendly – companions for a long time, with newspapers devoting space to reports since the 1870s. In the early 1970s, print and radio were kings when it came to rugby coverage, with photography playing an increasingly important role.
Out of that landscape came Rugby News, a weekly national rugby publication originally in extended newspaper format. Edited by journalist Bob Howitt, who remained at the helm until 1996, Rugby News was for the rugby purist and hung its hat on coverage of all levels of the game, including club and schools. It was a strong voice of rugby through changing times for the game and technology, moving to a glossy magazine style in the 1980s and then an online presence up until it ceased printing weekly in 2012.
Specialist rugby publications and rugby writers and commentators have thrived in New Zealand, with New Zealand Rugby second only to the Government in terms of media interest.
1971 Wairarapa Bush
The Wairarapa Union was formed in 1886 and the Bush Union was formed in 1890. They amalgamated in 1971.
New Zealanders were introduced to the television in the early 1960s, but it was not until 1972 that they enjoyed their first live telecast, via TVNZ, of an All Blacks home Test.
It had often been felt by the NZRFU that live TV coverage would adversely affect the crowd numbers. But those fears were allayed when 43,000 turned up at Eden Park on September 16 to see the All Blacks decisively defeat the Wallabies 38-3. Since then, the All Blacks have almost always been televised live in this country, and live in most games from overseas. Later in 1972, live coverage, starting with the All Blacks-Wales from satellite, beamed in from the middle of the night of the tour in the UK, spawning a whole new practice of 3am cocoa and crumpets for viewers.
In 2014 and 2016, NZR – with the support of SKY Television – experimented with live streaming games online to countries that aren’t receiving the game live through a broadcaster, thereby allowing a whole new audience to connect with the game.
At which ground was the famous 1975 ‘Waterpolo Test’ between the All Blacks and Scotland?
While the issue of rugby ties with South Africa remained problematic – in 1973 the then-NZRFU postponed the inbound Springboks tour at the request of the Government – New Zealand was taking a more global view of rugby in this decade.
To that end, several nations made their first tours of New Zealand. Scotland, incredibly, had never toured here, but did so in 1975, along with Romania. The following year Western Samoa, 14 years after independence, made an historic visit, as did Ireland and the Cook Islands.
After hosting the All Blacks in 1976, Argentina made a reciprocal tour in 1979, though the two internationals were not classed as official Tests.
The short form of the game took its first steps as men’s national sevens team made its first appearance in the record books and a national sevens competition got under way.
In 1973, NZR sent an invitational team to Scotland for a tournament marking the Centenary of the Scottish Rugby Union. Scotland had claimed to be the birthplace of sevens, so this was seen as a fitting way to mark the milestone. New Zealand beat Australia but lost to the hosts and Ireland, failing to make the Final. The All Blacks Sevens would not reassemble until 1983 when they contested the Hong Kong Sevens and would win their first tournament in 1986.
Prior to 1983, New Zealand had been represented at the Hong Kong Sevens by the winner of the interprovincial competition that had been held since 1975. First held in Auckland, Marlborough were the inaugural provincial winners.
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.
New Zealand has never known a winter quite like 1981.
There was protesting and fighting in the streets as the fifth Springboks’ tour to these shores divided the nation as never before. It was not simply rugby versus non-rugby, but those who felt sport should be separated from politics against those who felt apartheid could not be cast to one side in the name of a game.
On the field, the series was fiercely contested, culminating in the most dramatic Test ever played, the third international at Eden Park, won 25-22 by the All Blacks deep into injury time thanks to the unerring boot of Wellingtonian Allan Hewson. Matches against Waikato and South Canterbury were cancelled due to security concerns, but in all their other encounters with our provincial sides, the Springboks proved victorious. The match against the Maori All Blacks in Napier was drawn 12-12.
Having taken on the Springboks over the New Zealand winter it was then onto Europe for the end of year tour, where the All Blacks made their first – and only – visit to Romania, winning 14-6 in Bucharest. The two teams last met in France during Rugby World Cup 2007.
The allure of the Ranfurly Shield was never more palpable than on 14 September 1985 when more than 52,000 eager rugby fans packed into Christchurch’s Lancaster Park.
Many were hoping to see Canterbury break the record of successful Log o’ Wood defences, the mark of 25 set by Auckland more than 20 years beforehand. Others were hoping to see Auckland divest the southerners of the silverware after winning the 1984 NPC in fine style. What followed was drama that could not be scripted, as Auckland roared to a 24-0 halftime lead and then had to withstand a ferocious Canterbury comeback. At 28-23, the contest was in the balance until the final towering kick. But Auckland were the new holders, and they maintained a vice-like grip on New Zealand rugby’s oldest major provincial trophy until 1993, 61 defences later.
Against which team were the ‘Baby Blacks’ christened in 1986?
New Zealand did not start taking the abbreviated version of the game that seriously until the 1970s when the national provincial tournament was inaugurated.
But by the 1980s, they were able to field some strong teams with fit, fast players, exposing brilliant young talent such as Terry Wright, John Kirwan, Frano Botica, Zinzan Brooke, John Schuster, Eric Rush and Pat Lam. Men like Bryce Rope and Peter Thorburn were among the early coaches of the All Blacks Sevens teams.
Success on the field came swiftly. After their first appearance at the iconic Hong Kong Sevens in 1983 – a side that included the future legendary sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens – New Zealand went on to win the marquee event in 1986, ’87 and ’89 and remain crowd favourites in the event.
During the 1980s, Auckland dominated the provincial rugby landscape. However, a new rival popped up in their own back yard with the evolution of North Harbour – or as some fans know them, the Mighty Hibiscus…
North Harbour, the country’s newest union at that point, was something of an upstart, breaking away from Auckland in 1985 to go it alone in the provincial landscape.
They had to start from the bottom, the NPC third division, which they duly won at a canter, and then suffered a setback in losing the 1986 NPC second division to Waikato in the dying throes of the decider. But no matter. In 1987, they swept the second division to earn the right to walk with the giants. Coached by the innovative Peter Thorburn, and including players such as the brilliant Frano Botica and tough-as-teak captain Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford, North Harbour immediately proved competitive, placing fourth and third in the 1988-89 first division. They had well and truly proven themselves.
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.
The centrepiece of the NZRFU 100th jubilee celebrations was a three-match Test series against a World XV, won 2-1 by the All Blacks under a new Head Coach in Laurie Mains and Captain, Sean Fitzpatrick.
It proved to be a year of milestones, with the final long international tour undertaken by the All Blacks, to Australia and South Africa – for the first time in 16 years.
The provincial game gained prominence through the Super Six and CANZ series, while Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Canada all visited these shores. Club rugby also had some time in the spotlight, with regular televised Friday night games from the Auckland premier competition.
After 16 years as a round-robin competition, the NPC branched out into playoffs and finals rugby, and Otago’s 26-23 extra time victory over North Harbour in the first division semifinal proved that the NZRFU was onto a winner. Playoffs remain a vital component of the competition to this day.
The provincial game and the NPC habitually drew large crowds through the 1980s and ‘90s. Auckland, however, was the dominant union, winning 12 titles between 1982 and 1999.
Underpinning their success was their glorious Ranfurly Shield era of 1985-93, which ran to 61 defences. They finally ceded the Log o’ Wood to their great rivals Waikato, 17-6, at Eden Park. The image of Waikato captain John Mitchell raising the Shield aloft is an iconic one. The Mooloos have a proud Shield record and held it until the following year, when Canterbury divested them of it. But Waikato were not finished with the Shield – or with taking it from Auckland – for that decade, enjoying their longest tenure of 21 successful defences from 1997 to 2000 – with current All Blacks Assistant Coach the Captain holding aloft the Shield on that occasion.
Who retired in 1994 having scored more tries in all games for the All Blacks than any other player?
In the 1980s, women’s rugby had pockets of growth around the country and passionate advocates in people like Laurie O’Reilly and JJ Stewart, after whom trophies are named today.
By 1989, the first national representative team was named, which came to be known as the Black Ferns. Also in 1989, NZR selectors chose and announced a national women’s team for the first time. In 1991, the Black Ferns played their first Test at the inaugural Women’s Rugby World Cup. Although it wasn’t run by the IRFB, it was subsequently recognised by the Board as the first Tournament, with USA the first champions.
They became a dominant force on the world scene, dropping just one Test in the entire decade before annexing the first official Rugby World Cup in 1998 in brilliant style under the captaincy of Farah Palmer – and defended their title at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 tournaments.
By 1999, the first women’s NPC was inaugurated and the women’s game was firmly entrenched in the rugby landscape. Fourteen provincial sides took part, which grew to 18 the following year. In 2016, the competition – which had been known by various names over its 17-year history – was re-named the Farah Palmer Cup.
Gordon “Titch” Tietjens assumed the mantle of coach of the All Black Sevens in 1994 and helped build New Zealand into a dominant force in the abbreviated game.
It wasn’t until 2000 that the World Series circuit got under way and in the 1990s, the international programme was more ad hoc, other than the iconic Hong Kong tournament. But the team that Titch assembled for the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur – the first time sevens had appeared in the Games – was one of the finest sevens sides of all time. Eight of the squad of 10 were or went on to be All Blacks and at least half a dozen are fit to rank as greats of sevens. Men like Captain Eric Rush, Dallas Seymour, Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Karl Tenana and Joeli Vidiri saw them through to a 21-12 gold medal victory over Fiji in the final.
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.
New Zealand Rugby developed the RugbySmart programme in 2001 and rolled it out across all levels of the game. The programme, which was initially focused on injury prevention, ensures all players are physically and technically at their peak before they lace up their boots.
RugbySmart is a world-leading programme and since 2001 we’ve seen significant drops in rugby-related injury claims to the Accident Compensation Corporation and a huge reduction in serious spinal injuries.
The Provincial Unions facilitate compulsory RugbySmart Injury Prevention courses for all rugby referees and coaches of grades over Under 13 level at the beginning of every rugby season. Coaches of players aged 12 and under attend a compulsory Small Blacks Coaching Course, which includes RugbySmart. It’s a comprehensive approach that is about keeping players where coaches and supporters want them: on the field, contributing to a winning team.
In September 2016, NZR announced that the world leading RugbySmart programme would receive an additional $7m investment over the next four years from ACC to enhance and expand injury prevention education in our national game. We recognised that more can and should be done to keep players safe on and off the field and have extended the RugbySmart concept out to a much broader focus with the potential for significant benefits for the wider rugby community.
To learn more about RugbySmart and its 2016 expansion, visit rugbysmart.co.nz
Tasman was the result of a partnership between the Nelson Bays and Marlborough Unions. The Nelson Bays Union was formed in 1885 and in 1969 amalgamated with the Golden Bay-Motueka Union, which had been founded in 1920. The Marlborough Union was founded in 1888.
Sport is full of highs and lows, a lesson the All Blacks had learned well by the end of the decade.
On June 16, 2001, Carl Hayman ran onto North Harbour Stadium to face Samoa alongside fellow replacement Mark Ranby, but due to the alphabetic luck of his surname, Hayman takes the honour as the 1000th All Black. The milestone came 117 years after the first All Black, another Otago forward by the name of James Allan, took the field in the New Zealand national team’s first outing against a Wellington XV. They were not widely known as the All Blacks until the Originals’ tour of 1905-06, but all New Zealand reps were retrospectively accorded All Blacks’ status. As at April 2017, the tally currently stands at 1157 All Blacks, the latest of whom was a third Otago forward, Liam Coltman.
In 2005, the British & Irish Lions made their first tour in 12 years. The All Blacks swept the Test series 3-0, the tour was a commercial success and the victory for the Maori All Blacks over the Lions in Hamilton was a rousing occasion. The All Blacks then set their sights on, and achieved, a second Grand Slam, 27 years after the first – they achieved this in 2005 and again in 2008.
For the first time, the All Blacks missed the semifinals of Rugby World Cup 2007, falling to France in Cardiff at the quarter-finals stage. This had come after the disappointments of RWC 2003 in Australia, when the team failed to make the Final and the refrain ‘four more years’ took on a sinister quality.
But the lessons of that campaign, detailed in the Eichelbaum Report, were absorbed, and New Zealand Rugby reappointed the coaching team of Sir Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith. It proved to be an inspired decision as the All Blacks, barring a tough 2009 season, rose to new heights. After RWC 2003, World Rugby introduced World Rankings. England as World Champions were initially ranked at No 1 which they still hold, but the All Blacks have dominated the list since its inception.
The All Blacks have, against the odds, extended their Test winning percentage almost every season in the professional era, and the continuity of the coaching team post-2007 played a part in that rise.
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?
After 14 seasons of three divisions and playoffs rugby, the NPC was rebranded and expanded. There were now 14 teams in the top division, known as the Air New Zealand Cup.
The old NPC second and third divisions came under the Heartland Championship umbrella and offered all unions a shot at silverware for the Meads and Lochore Cups, both named after great All Blacks from the Heartland Unions. Waikato was the inaugural Air New Zealand Cup winner, while Wairarapa-Bush clinched the Meads Cup and Poverty Bay the Lochore Cup.
A salary cap was installed in the Air New Zealand Cup and new participation criteria introduced for all the Provincial Unions. In 2008, an extensive Competition Review took place, with the competition subject to intense scrutiny for several years. It was tough times for rugby as some Unions faced the possibility of no longer playing in the premier competition but following extensive consultation and negotiation a new format was settled on from 2010, with all 14 teams retained.
The financial loss for 2009 was the largest in NZR’s history followed by the second-largest a year later. This reflected the troubled financial landscape that had engulfed the world in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and affected the game at all levels.
The GFC, unhelpful interest and exchange rates, rising costs, RWC 2011 obligations and pressure on NZR income streams all created challenges for the leaders of the game. NZR had to make difficult decisions in order to reduce our operating expenses.
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.
In 2010, the rugby community gathered together to celebrate the Centenary of the first official Maori All Blacks team and to recognise the unique contribution of Maori to rugby in New Zealand. Centenary matches, a series of celebratory events, a postage stamp, commemorative jerseys and a publication were part of the Centennial celebrations.
It was important that the Centenary of that first match should be marked appropriately with a programme befitting the mana of the Maori All Blacks and the contribution of Maori rugby. The centrepiece of the centennial celebrations was the three-match Sealord New Zealand Maori Centenary Series, in which the Maori All Blacks faced the New Zealand Barbarians in Whangarei, Ireland in Rotorua and England in Napier.
A 26-man squad was named for the Centenary Series, captained by Liam Messam and featured 12 players who joined the Maori All Blaks for the first time. The team was presented with a special centennial jersey, Te Ao Ho-u (The New Dawn), which was officially blessed in Wellington and linked the 2010 players with their predecessors.
In the lead up to the Centenary, NZR issued an apology to those Maori players who were not considered for selection for teams to tour South Africa or to play South Africa as well as to the wider Maori community and New Zealand as a whole.
2010 was a tough year for New Zealanders, with two particular tragic events resonating across the country: the Canterbury Earthquake in September and the fatal explosion in the Pike River Mine on the West Coast – and rugby felt the impact as well. These events were followed up by the devastating February 2011 earthquakes that brought tragedy and devastation on a scale not recently seen in New Zealand.
In response to the February earthquake, NZR launched its first ever direct appeal to rugby fans and supporters around the world on behalf of the children affected by the disaster. The All Blacks Earthquake Appeal for Christchurch Kids directed donations to the two All Blacks’ official charities, KidsCan Charitable Trust and Plunket New Zealand, to support their work to help the youngest residents of Christchurch and their families as they tried to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy.
In 2013, we refreshed our public facing name and identity to closer align with our organisation’s direction towards 2016 and better reflect the work we undertake across all areas of rugby including the community game.
In 2006, ‘Football’ had been dropped from the Union’s name and in 2013, the new name of New Zealand Rugby was adopted (New Zealand Rugby Union was retained as our legal name). This coincided with the Wellington office moving from CentrePort to 100 Molesworth Street, after the old building was identified as being at risk in an earthquake.
In 2012, NZR opened its first office in Auckland.
In what year did Investec Super Rugby replace the Super 14?
New Zealand hosted the Junior World Championship (JWC 2014) for the first time, with World Rugby and the participating teams saying what a great tournament it was.
The tournament was held between ECOLight Stadium in Pukekohe and QBE Stadium in North Harbour, with the Final played at Eden Park. Lower-than-expected attendance affected the tournament’s financial result, but the international broadcast coverage was unprecedented and the fans that did attend gave the teams fantastic support.
New Zealand Under 20 weren’t able to claim the win on home soil, with honours going to England, but the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd after tournaments was a special one for the team and their families.
Rippa Rugby is a safe, non-contact form of rugby aimed at primary school-aged children where instead of tackling, players rip velcro-fastened tags off each other’s waists. The games are seven minutes each way.
Since 2011, NZR has held annual national tournaments, bringing together teams from around the country to find the year’s Rippa Rugby Champions – with a Rippa World Cup held in 2011 and 2015.
While much has been achieved and there has been considerable personal growth in many of those involved in professional rugby, there is still a significant opportunity, need and desire to further improve the culture and overall standards of behaviour within the professional game.
This includes ensuring that our attitudes towards women in rugby, diversity, respect, responsibility and inclusiveness are in keeping with a world leading sports organisation. NZR is committed to focus on what can be done to make further improvements in NZR’s induction and ongoing education programme and ultimately the culture in the professional environments.
In response to a series of incidents of poor player behaviour and the community reaction to these, a Respect and Responsibility Review was confirmed, conducted by an independent panel. The Review will be conducted from November 2016 through May 2017 and the preliminary outcomes reported to the Board at its meeting in June 2017.
To find out more go to nzrugby.co.nz/what-we-do/rugby-responsibility/respect-and-responsibility-review