Rugby union in New Zealand

Rugby union in New Zealand

Sport overview
country = New Zealand
sport = rugby union

imagesize = 200px
caption = The All Blacks playing England.
union = New Zealand Rugby Union
nickname =
first = 1870, Nelson
registered = 141,726 (total) 29,089 (adults)
clubs = 520
national1 = Rugby World Cup
national2 = Tri Nations
national3 = Pacific Nations Cup
national4 = Rugby World Cup Sevens
national5 = IRB Sevens World Series
club1 = Super 14
club2 = Air New Zealand Cup
club3 = Heartland Championship
club4 = Ranfurly Shield
club5 = Hanan Shield

Rugby union is the unofficial national sport of New Zealand. Rugby, as it is generally referred to by New Zealanders, is an integral part of New Zealand culture. The national team, the All Blacks, are the first ranked international team in the world.cite web| | url= | title=Official IRB World Rankings | accessdate=10 November | accessyear=2007] The sport was known in New Zealand from 1870, and the game now holds close ties with the culture of the country. The top domestic competitions are the professional Air New Zealand Cup and amateur Heartland Championship, and above them, the Super 14, in which New Zealand has five franchises. The country hosted the first ever World Cup final in 1987, and have won the rights to host the 2011 tournament.


Various codes of football were played in New Zealand in the years following white settlement. Christchurch Football Club, which is now the oldest rugby club in the country, was founded in 1863. It played by its own rules for many years. Rugby football was first introduced to New Zealand in 1870 by Charles John Monro, son of the then-Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Monro.cite web| url= |title=Monro, David 1813 - 1877 |publisher=Dictionary of New Zealand Biography |accessdate=2007-05-08 |last=Wright-St Clair |first=Rex|date=2006-06-07] He encountered the game while studying at Christ's College Finchley, in East Finchley, London, England, and on his return introduced the game to Nelson College, who played the first rugby union match against Nelson football club on 14 May. [cite web| |url= | title=New Zealand Rugby | accessdate=6 June | accessyear=2006] A visit to Wellington by Munro later that same year resulted in an organised match between Nelson and Wellington. By the following year, the game had been formalised in Wellington, and subsequently rugby was taken up in Wanganui and Auckland in 1873 and Hamilton in 1874. In 1875 the first representative team was formed, being a combined-clubs Auckland team which toured the South. It is thought that by the mid-1870s, the game had been taken up by the majority of the colony.

The latter stages of the 1870s saw the emergence of a more formal structure, with Unions being formed in both Canterbury and Wellington during 1879. [Gifford (2004) pg 27.] In 1882, the first international rugby side toured New Zealand, a New South Wales side that visited both islands during the latter part of the year. Two years later, a New Zealand team visited New South Wales, wearing blue jerseys with a golden fern. The team won all their games. In 1888, the first ever British Isles rugby team tour took place, visiting New Zealand and Australia. The visitors won all their New Zealand games except for one, losing to Auckland. During 1888-89, the New Zealand Native team became the first from a colony to visit Britain. In 1892 the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was established, to act as the national governing body of the sport. Following the establishment of the national governing body, the first NZRFU national sanctioned tour was undertaken in 1893, when a ten game tour of Australia was played. The team was captained by Thomas Ellison.

In 1902, the governor of New Zealand, the fifth Earl of Ranfurly presented a trophy shield to the Auckland side, who were undefeated in provincial competition that year. The shield became known as the Ranfurly Shield. Three years later, a 1905 New Zealand team, who became known as the "Originals", toured the British Isles and France winning all of their games apart from controversially losing the test against Wales. As the team swept through Britain, some of the players took note of how rugby (league) was being played in the North of England. One player, Aucklander George Smith met with Sydney entrepreneur James J. Giltinan on his way home, and discussed the opportunities of such a game.cite web | | title=The 1905 All Blacks Gave Life to Rugby League |url=| accessdate=10 June | accessyear=2006] Meanwhile, New Zealander Albert Henry Baskervill had contacted the Northern Union to arrange a New Zealand tour, as he had just read about the game in an English magazine. The NZRU discouraged any involvement from its players and officials, nonetheless, a team departed a travelled to Sydney first, and were there labelled the All Golds, a play on All Blacks in reference to the player payments. The team went on to tour England. They played an import role in rugby league.

The 1930s saw a period of skill development for rugby in New Zealand.cite web | | url= | title=Rugby in New Zealand | accessdate=10 June | accessyear=2006] The 1940 All Black tour of South Africa was one of the first sporting events cancelled due to the Second World War.cite web | | title=Sport in New Zealand 1940-1960 |url=| accessdate=29 August | accessyear=2007] Rugby was however played in services sport, with games being played with South African allies during the North African desert campaign, also, most domestic competitions were suspended during this time. In 1976, the first ever season of the National Provincial Championship (succeeded in 2006 by the Air New Zealand Cup and Heartland Championship) went underway. In its inaugural format, Division One was made up of seven North Island teams and four South Island. The remaining provinces contested a split second division, though South and North teams did not meet each other, instead played their respective Island clubs. There was a separate relegation system in place for each the North and South, ensuring the number of teams from each island.

The 1981 Springbok Tour, or The Tour, went down as one of the most controversial rugby tours ever. From July to September, the Springboks toured New Zealand. Rugby fans filled the stadiums, yet equal numbers of fans protested the games outside the stadiums. Police were divided into Red and Blue riot squads for the tour, and in preparation for possible trouble, all spectators were told to assemble in sports grounds at least an hour before kickoff. At a game at Rugby Park in Hamilton, around 350 protesters pulled down a fence and invaded the pitch. Police, already very worried, pulled the match when they found out a light plane piloted by a protester was headed to fly around the stadium. A protest turned violent in Wellington the following week, escalating the situation. During the final test match at Eden Park, a low flying plane dropped flour bombs over the pitch. These images were beamed around the world, and looked as though a civil crisis had engulfed New Zealand. A subsequent 1985 All Black tour was prevented by the High Court, but an unofficial tour took place the following year.

In 1987, the NZRFU wrote to the International Rugby Football Board, now known as the International Rugby Board (IRB), requesting the possibility of hosting an inugural Rugby World Cup. The 1987 World Cup was eventually given to both New Zealand and Australia. The All Blacks made it to the final, where they would meet France. The All Blacks won and were crowned the first ever World Champions. In the 1980s, New Zealand provincial sides participated in the South Pacific Championship, along with teams from Australia and Fiji. In 1992 this type of competition was relaunched as the Super Sixes, and was expanded to the Super 10 later. As rugby entered the professional era in the mid 1990s, along with South Africa and Australia, New Zealand formed SANZAR, which would see them start a provincial rugby competition, the Super 12. The 1996 Super 12 season saw the Auckland Blues finish in second place, whilst the Waikato Chiefs 6th, the Otago Highlanders 8th, the Wellington Hurricanes 9th, and the Canterbury Crusaders 12th. The SANZAR agreement also saw the formation of the Tri Nations Series, a contest between the respective national sides, the All Blacks, and the Springboks and the Wallabies. The All Blacks won the first series. New Zealand was supposed to jointly host the 2003 World Cup with Australia, but a disagreement with the IRB saw the tournament given to Australia in its entirety. In 2006, New Zealand won the right to host the 2011 World Cup.


In New Zealand there are 520 clubscite web| url= |title=New Zealand |publisher=IRB |accessdate=2007-09-09] , 141726 registered players and 2309 referees. In colonial New Zealand, rugby football served to hold loyalty to the Crown within the emigrant population, whilst introducing British culture to the Māori population.cite web | | url= | title=The New Zealand Natives' Rugby Tour of 1888/89 | accessdate=10 June | accessyear=2006] It was the New Zealand Natives' Rugby Tour of 1888/89 showed that New Zealand could compete with other nations, something they had trouble doing in another traditional sport, cricket. Similarly, the 1905-06 tour, in which the All Blacks went very close to a clean sweep tour (one loss against Wales), helped to create a sense of national pride around the All Blacks, as they appeared physically superior and pulled off an admirable performance on their British tour. It is also thought that this saw the emergance of the Kiwi as a national symbol.cite web | | url= | title=Rugby triumphs and national pride | accessdate=10 June | accessyear=2006] Rugby is considered to be a part of New Zealand life - dominating the sports media.cite web | | url= | title=The Māori Rugby Culture in New Zealand | accessdate=10 June | accessyear=2006] The Haka, a Māori war dance which has been immortalised in popular culture by the All Blacks has become an iconic image of sport. Rugby being the unofficial sport of New Zealand, attracts large sporting attendances, both in New Zealand and in other rugby nations. As many as 5000 people have simply turned out to All Black training sessions.cite web | | url=,11378.html | title=Crowds flock to All Blacks training | accessdate=10 June | accessyear=2006] There is a pay TV channel dedicated to rugby in New Zealand.cite web| url= |title=Econ 327 |date=2006 |publisher=University of Canterbury |accessdate=2007-02-14|format=PDF]


Early forms of rugby had been played in New Zealand since the 1860s. While these were initially associated with the settler elite and the military, other colonists accustomed to hard physical labour also soon took part.

In 1872, 'Wirihana' became the first recorded Māori rugby player when he turned out for Wanganui 'Country' in a 20-a-side fixture against their urban counterparts. While some all-Māori clubs were formed, such as Kiri Kiri near Thames, mixed teams were more common in areas like Poverty Bay which had substantial Māori populations.

Māori living in areas which had supported the Crown during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s seem to have been the first to take up the sport. Jack Taiaroa and Joseph Warbrick were key members of the first representative New Zealand team, which toured New South Wales in 1884.


The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) is responsible for rugby in the country. The NZRU was formed in 1892 as the New Zealand Rugby Football Union with the original representation of seven unions though there was the original significant absence of Canterbury, Otago and Southland. The NZRFU joined the IRFB in 1949. There are 26 member unions within New Zealand. Every province also has its own union. In late 2005, New Zealand won the right to host the 2011 World Cup.

National teams

All Blacks

The All Blacks are the most successful team in international rugby. They have a positive winning record against all Test nations, and have a win record of over 73%cite web | | url= | title=All Blacks Test Match Record since first test match. | accessdate=2007-02-14] The first All Blacks Test match was played against Australia at Sydney Cricket Ground on 15 August, 1903.cite web| url= | |title=1st All Black Test : 45th All Black Game |accessdate=2007-02-14] New Zealand won 22 - 3, with "The Sydney Morning Herald" saying, 'The present New Zealand team have shown form so far in advance of every fifteen opposed to them that it seems almost impossible for Australia to put a side into the field with any hope of victory...'.cite book |first=Ron | last=Palenski |year=2003 |title=Century in Black: 100 Years of All Black Test Rugby |publisher=Hodder Moa Beckett Publishers Limited |location=Auckland |id=ISBN 1-86958-937-8] The major rugby playing nations of Scotland, Ireland, Italy and Argentina have yet to defeat the All Blacks in a test match. The All Blacks were winners of the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 and were runners-up in 1995. The All Blacks were the only team to have reached the semi-final stage at every World Cupcite news| url= |title=Zinzan Brooke defends All Blacks - 'we can win the Cup' |publisher=NZPA |accessdate=2006-11-28 |date=2006-11-17 |last=Gilhooly |first=Daniel] until the 2007 World Cup where they were defeated 20-18 by France in the quarter-finals.

Junior All Blacks

The Junior All Blacks are not an age grade side, but are the second national team behind the All Blacks. The were formerly known as New Zealand A, but the name was changed for marketing purposes. They compete in the Pacific Nations Cup competition alongside Australia A, Fiji, Japan, Samoa and Tonga. They won the inaugural IRB Pacific 5 Nations competition in 2006. In 2007 Australia A joined with the competition, changing its name to Pacific Nations Cup. The Junior All Blacks repeated their 2006 success in 2007 winning the competition with victories in all five of their matches including with a 50-0 thumping of their Australian conterparts at Carisbrook Dunedin. The New Zealand Māori will play in the Pacific Nations Cup for the 2008 competition.

New Zealand Māori

The New Zealand Māori is a representative side that traditionally play teams touring New Zealand. A prerequisite for playing in this team is that the player must be at least 1/16th Māori descent. Due to the number of New Zealanders with some degree of Māori heritage, a large number of New Zealand rugby players are eligible. The team was formerly established in 1910, and has gone on to play many of the world's top Test teams, including the Springboks, and the British and Irish Lions. In the 2008 the New Zealand Māori will play in the Pacific Nations Cup.

Heartland XV

Previously known as the New Zealand Divisional XV, this team was revamped in 2006. Only players who have participated in the previous season's Heartland Championship are eligible for selection; this makes it effectively a Heartland all-star team. This team traditionally goes on second-level tours; their first tour under the Heartland name was a 2006 end-of-year tour to Argentina, where they played two provincial teams and the Argentina A side, [cite web|url= | date=2006-10-21 | accessdate=2006-10-29 | title=National honours for Heartland players | publisher=NZPA via ""] splitting the provincial matches [cite web|url= | date=2006-11-03 | accessdate=2007-01-05 | title=Heartland XV start with come-from-behind win | publisher=NZPA via ""] [cite web|url= | date=2006-11-06 | accessdate=2007-01-05 | title=Heartland XV beaten 13-35 by Tucuman | publisher=NZPA via ""] and losing to Argentina A. [cite web|url= | date=2006-11-12 | accessdate=2007-01-05 | title=Heartland XV go down to Argentina 15 | publisher=NZPA via ""]

Black Ferns

The Black Ferns are the top national women's team in New Zealand. They are the current Women's Rugby World Cup champions, being 3 time winners after they won the 1998 tournament then again in 2002 in Barcelona and again in 2006 in Canada.


Sevens is a form of rugby union which involves 7 players per team rather than 15 in the regular game. The games are 7 minutes per half (10 minutes in a competition final) rather than 40 minutes per half in the 15-man game. The New Zealand Sevens team compete in the IRB Sevens World Series, the Sevens World Cup, and the Commonwealth Games Sevens. The New Zealand Sevens team are also undefeated in the Sevens events in the Commonwealth Games. Since the inception of the Sevens World Series in 1999-2000 the New Zealand Sevens team have dominated the series, winning every season-long competition until 2006, when Fiji claimed the title. New Zealand regained the IRB Sevens title in 2007, and retained it in record-setting fashion in 2008.

Under 21's

The New Zealand Under 21's rugby union team is for players aged under 21. New Zealand Under 21 (formerly Colts) was first selected in 1955 and played annually until 2007. The Under 21's enjoyed great success on the world stage, winning world titles in 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004.

Under 19's

The New Zealand Under 19's rugby team is for players aged under 19. New Zealand Under 19 was selected for the first time in 1990. They have been strong contenders during their time, and won the IRB Under 19 World Championship in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2007

Under 20's

New Zealand formed an Under 20 side for the first time in 2008. The catalyst for the creation of this side was the IRB's decision to scrap its under-19 and under-21 world championships in favour of a single under-20 tournament to be known as the IRB Junior World Championship. The side competed in and won the inaugural competition, held in June 2008 in Wales.


The New Zealand Schoolboys rugby union team is for secondary school students to help them aim for and achieve higher houners. New Zealand Schoolboys team is a great team to start out in and it brings you into the international scene early on. Famous past schoolboy players include Aaron Mauger, Malili Muliaina,and Joe Rokocoko.

Domestic competitions

uper 14

The Super 14 is an international provincial competition featuring teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The competition, governed by SANZAR, was formed in 1996 as Super 12 after the game turned professional. The current format is five teams from both New Zealand and South Africa and four teams from Australia. Each team plays each other team once in a round-robin format followed by a knockout finals series featuring the top four finishers. New Zealand is represented by the following franchises: Crusaders, Blues, Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders.

New Zealand teams have dominated Super Rugby (a common collective term for Super 12 and 14), winning all but three of the twelve titles decided to date. The Crusaders are the most successful franchise having won 7 titles in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2008. The Blues are the only other New Zealand team to have captured the title, having won in 1996, 1997 and 2003. Australia's Brumbies and South Africa's Bulls are the only teams from outside New Zealand to have won a title.

Air New Zealand Cup

The Air New Zealand Cup, started in 2006, is the premier domestic competition in New Zealand rugby. A fully professional competition contested by 14 provincial teams, it is the successor to Division One of the country's former domestic competition, the National Provincial Championship (NPC).

The Air New Zealand Cup features the following teams from the former NPC Division One:
*Auckland [,,9586,00.html]
*Bay of Plenty []
*Canterbury []
*North Harbour []
*Northland []
*Otago []
*Southland []
*Taranaki []
*Waikato []
*Wellington []

It also features three teams from the former NPC Division Two:
*Counties Manukau []
*Manawatu []
*Hawke's Bay []

plus one newly formed team, the merger of the former NPC Division Two teams of Marlborough and Nelson Bays:
*Tasman [] (formed by the merger of the Marlborough and Nelson Bays unions)

Heartland Championship

The Heartland Championship is an amateur competition contested among 12 teams from the former NPC Divisions Two and Three. It was also founded in 2006 as a result of the reorganisation of the NPC, and is directly run by the NZRFU. Its teams compete for the Meads and Lochore Cups, named after famous All Blacks Colin Meads and Brian Lochore. The participating teams are:

*East Coast
*Horowhenua-Kapiticite news | | url= | title=NPC makeover - everyone's a winner | accessdate=2006-05-11]
*King Country
*Mid Canterbury
*North Otago
*Poverty Bay
*South Canterbury
*Thames Valley
*Wairarapa Bush
*West Coast

Ranfurly Shield

The Ranfurly Shield, also known as the Log of Wood, has been competed for on a challenge basis by provincial teams since 1904. The holding union must defend the Shield in challenge matches, and if a challenger defeats them, they become the new holder of the Shield. The Shield was first presented by the Governor of New Zealand, the Earl of Ranfurly. The current holders are Wellington.


Each Air New Zealand Cup and Heartland Championship region conducts local inter-provincial club competitions. The club level is often followed by the local media and has local support. Clubs often rely on the Pub Charity in order to survive.Fact|date=February 2007 In total, there are 520 clubs that are affiliated to the NZRFU.

International competition

World Cup

The Rugby World Cup is considered the ultimate rugby competition. The New Zealand All Blacks won the first world cup in 1987, beating France in the final. Since then the All Blacks have been favourites on several occasions, but have not won the competition again, losing to Australia in the semi-final in 2003 and losing to France in 2007 in a shock quarter-final exit from a late try by the French.

Intense lobbying by the NZRFU and the New Zealand Government helped New Zealand secure hosting rights to the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Tri Nations

The Tri Nations is an annual competition involving New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Previously this involved each country playing one home and one away game against both other countries. From 2006 the competition has been expanded with each nation playing both the other nations three times. The All Blacks won the first series in 1996, as well as the subsequent 1997 series. They have been the most dominant team in the series, winning it seven times in total, compared to the Springboks two and the Wallabies' two.

Bledisloe Cup

The Bledisloe Cup reflects the rivalry between Australia and New Zealand and has been contested since the early 1930s. The Bledisloe Cup was irregularly contested between 1931 and 1981, usually during tours by the two nations. During this period, New Zealand won it 19 times and Australia four times. In 1982 it became an annual contest, being contested either as a single game or in a three-test series. Between 1982 and 1995 New Zealand won the Cup 11 times and Australia three times. Since 1996 the Bledisloe Cup has been contested as part of the Tri Nations. In total, the All Blacks have won 67 Bledisloe Cup games, Australia 30, with four draws.

Pacific Nations Cup

The Pacific Nations Cup is a competition that started in 2006 under the name of IRB Pacific 5 Nations involving the Junior All Blacks, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, and Tonga. In 2007, Australia A joined the tournament. The Junior All Blacks played their homes games at North Harbour Stadium, Yarrow Stadium and Carisbrook. The Pacific Nations Cup is an IRB tournament funded as part of the $US50 million, three-year, global strategic investment programme that was launched in August 2005. As of 2008 the New Zealand Māori rugby union team will be the team participating from New Zealand with the Junior All Blacks being left out.

Churchill Cup

The Churchill Cup is a tournament originally intended to help build depth in rugby in Canada and the USA, and an opportunity to develop new players for the England national team. The New Zealand Māori along with the Black Ferns participated in the 2004 event, winning their respective tournaments. However, the following year, the Māori had to pull out as it conflicted with their fixtures against the British and Irish Lions. The Māori competed in and won the 2006 tournament. There was no women's event in either 2005 or 2006 due to Canada's preparations to host the 2006 Women's Rugby World Cup. As of 2008 the New Zealand Māori rugby union team will no longer participate as they will be competing for the Pacific Nations Cup

World Cup Sevens

The Rugby World Cup Sevens is the IRB's equivalent to the (15-man) Rugby World Cup. It is also held every four years, specifically in the odd-numbered years in which the 15-man RWC is not held. The competition was first held in 1993. New Zealand won in 2001, and were losing finalists to Fiji in the most recent event in 2005.

IRB Sevens World Series

The IRB Sevens World Series, held annually since 1999-2000, is a series of several international tournaments, currently eight, featuring full international sevens teams. As noted earlier, New Zealand won the first six seasons of the series, finally being dethroned in 2006 by Fiji, but regaining the title in 2007 and successfully defending it in 2008. New Zealand hosts one leg, the New Zealand International Sevens, at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

Notes and references



External links

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* [ Rugby and Maori]

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