Story: Māori rugby – whutupaoro

Page 2. Rugby union, 1910s to 1930s

All images & media in this story

Post-First World War

The end of the First World War saw the first example of the South African 'colour bar'. The New Zealand Inter-services rugby team, which had won the King's Cup in 1919, was invited to tour South Africa. The South Africans requested that no 'coloured' players be included, so Parekura Tureia of Ngāti Porou and Nathaniel ‘Ranji’ Wilson, a New Zealander with West Indian heritage, were removed from the team.

Also in 1919, members of the Māori (Pioneer) Battalion formed their own rugby team and toured England, Wales and France. The team subsequently toured New Zealand, helping the the resurgence of rugby in the provinces following the war.

Māori versus South Africa

In the 1920s the clash of race and rugby continued. In 1921 the South Africans toured New Zealand for the first time. Parekura Tureia got his chance to play the South Africans as he captained New Zealand Maoris in Napier, a prospect that didn’t please some of the visiting Springboks. Following the game a cable dispatched by South African journalist Charles Blackett sparked outrage. In it, Blackett commented that having to watch ‘thousands [of] Europeans frantically cheering on band of colored men to defeat members of own race was too much for Springboks, who frankly disgusted’.1 The Springboks won 9–8 amidst controversy over the refereeing.

Māori players would be excluded from the 1928, 1949 and 1960 tours of South Africa. One result of this exclusion was that the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) became more open to allowing Māori to assert a level of autonomy.

1926–27 grand tour

In 1922 the Māori Advisory Board of the NZRFU was set up. In 1926 Ned Parata, the chair of the board, was granted his long-standing wish to send the New Zealand Maoris to Great Britain. The team, captained by Wattie Barclay, made a grand tour of New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), France, England, Wales and Canada in 1926–27. It played 40 matches and won 30. The side made an impression on Edward, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII). He gave each player a medal and donated the Prince of Wales cup, which, together with the Te Mori rose bowl, became the symbol of regional Māori rugby supremacy. The team left a particular imprint on the French, who adopted the Māori style of playing after being beaten by them.

New Zealand Maoris tour of 1935

In 1935 the New Zealand Maoris embarked upon a major tour of Australia. Rugby in Australia had seen mass defections towards rugby league during the economic depression. The role of the New Zealand Maoris, led by rugby great George Nēpia, was to play attractive rugby union in order to promote the game in Australia. Gate takings were at an all-time high and Australian rugby enthusiasts credited the Māori team for helping revive the sport.

Māori versus Fiji

In 1938 New Zealand Maoris played Fiji for the first time, drawing in a three-test series. In the 2000s New Zealand Maoris had played more games against Fiji than against any other team. Many of those encounters were part of tours to the Pacific during which Tonga and Samoa were also played.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm Mulholland, 'Māori rugby – whutupaoro - Rugby union, 1910s to 1930s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-rugby-whutupaoro/page-2 (accessed 4 August 2020)

Story by Malcolm Mulholland, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Jan 2015