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It's Rugby Union World Cup Year Our All Blacks Are Current Cup Holders. This is for People who are Unfamiliar with the

Updated on May 4, 2015

Roots of the game

The legend goes that the seed of the game was sown in 1823 when a lad called William Webb Ellis, attending Rugby School in Warwickshire England, contravened the existing rules of "Association Football" by picking up the ball and rushing at the opposition. The rules of the day meant you could pick up the ball but you were only able to retreat from the spot you caught it and the opposing team couldn't advance past the spot where it was caught until it was kicked or put on the ground by the catcher.

Over the next decades the game evolved into being between 2 sides of 15 players with the players able to carry the ball into contact with the opposition. This created the need for a completely different set of skills and attracted hard men looking for a physical outlet by way of sport.. The popularity of the game increased in Britain and the "colonies" and the first international match was played between England and Scotland in 1871. In 1883 The "home " nations England, Scotland Wales and Ireland started the Home Nations tournament and seven a side rugby was born at Melrose in Scotland in the same year.

In 1888 a combined British Isles team toured New Zealand and Australia, this was reciprocated later that year by the New Zealand Native team who were the first overseas team to tour the old country. They played 107 matches over a year, winning 78 drawing 6 and losing 23.

International rugby grew from these pioneers and remained an amateur game up until 1995 when the restrictions on paying players was lifted.

The 1888 New Zealand Native Rugby team that toured New Zealand, Australia and Britain
The 1888 New Zealand Native Rugby team that toured New Zealand, Australia and Britain

The Great Schism "Amateur" versus "Professional"

In the early days the sport in the Northern regions of England was largely a lower and middle class pursuit, in the Southern regions it was more the upper classes. Over time the upper class began to have an increased influence over the running of the game leading to the formation of the RFU, (Rugby Football Union). The RFU, rather duplicitously deemed that players should not be paid or compensated for playing Rugby, when they had clearly done so for some players in the past.

The Northern clubs weren't too happy with this and banded together to form a separate "League" where they could pay their players and administrators. They not only separated but they devised a hybrid game with 13 players per side, no lineouts and a tackled player could retain possession, stand and unmolested, roll the ball back between his legs with his foot to a player positioned behind to restart play.

The fully professional "Rugby League" expanded to Australia, New Zealand, France and some Pacific countries with Papua New Guinea being prominent. The game has pretty much stayed with those original participants and remains a minor version of the game on a world wide stage.

The Schism created much animosity between the two factions and this has endured and festered to varying degrees until this day.

The "Amateur" Game a Kiwi Way of Life

As mentioned above Rugby Union was portrayed as strictly amateur until 1995 when restrictions on openly paying players were lifted. Before that most players had regular jobs, Farmers, labourers, Salesman, Policemen, Doctors , Butchers and so on.

The players would work at their jobs, go to practices one or two evenings during the week, play Saturday afternoon, have a few beers or a juice after the game and take a bite to eat provided by the ladies at the clubrooms. There would be the cliché laden speeches to acknowledge the opposition, the officials and the volunteers that were the backbone of the game, a player of the day would be selected as would a "dick" of the day.

The club rugby scene was and still is the hub and focal point of many communities reaching deeply into New Zealand society, with the love of the game passed from generation to generation. One of the most telling things about rugby in New Zealand is that unlike some of the other major playing nations it is played at all levels by all walks of society. There are the usual societal separations between haves and have nots but where rugby is concerned the game is available to anyone and you can have an unemployed worker playing alongside a wealthy stockbroker. The only obvious divisions are between forwards and backs and that is usually consists of good natured ribbing.

The whole structure of New Zealand rugby is built on the love of the game and the wide range of genuine good buggers, men and women who give up their precious time to coach, officiate, manage teams, set up and run competitions, fundraise, provide first aid, mentor troubled and underprivileged kids and so on. This is more than a game it's a way of life that exemplifies the Kiwi spirit and camaraderie.This is the basis of the continued success of our national team the All Blacks over the last 110 years.

The Passion of Grass Roots Rugby In New Zealand

Grass Roots Rugby
Grass Roots Rugby

The Professional Era

The professional game came to Rugby Union in 1995 when the IRB (International Rugby Board) finally formalised the paying of players and officials. Players had been "compensated" in various ways since the birth of the game but the official line was strictly amateur.

Initially the money available was small beer compared to other sports around the globe like Golf, Tennis, American football, basketball, soccer and baseball, however it was a step in the right direction and a good player could make a reasonable living playing top level Rugby Union.

These days the most money is available in France and Britain and many of our talented players end up in one of the professional competitions up that way. Many NZ ers feared this would decimate our game because due to our small population the same level of payments simply aren't available in New Zealand . So far this hasn't happened and the pull and mana of the black jersey and also for the 5 regional franchises keeps enough good players at home to maintain the All Black position as the most consistent team in the game.

There had been some controversial moments around player payments, one example being the speculation around a "rebel" tour to our great rivals South Africa by the New Zealand Cavalliers in 1986. This tour was arranged by players after the official All Blacks tour was cancelled by the NZ rugby union due to the apartheid political system in South Africa at the time.

South Africa was starved of international play due to apartheid and were hugely disappointed when the official tour was cancelled. Rumours are that these players, mostly current All Blacks, received large payments from South Africa to play over there.

Thankfully that dark period in history is behind us and we continue to treasure the rivalry between these 2 great rugby nations.

Cold Toes and no Quarter.

In New Zealand, Rugby Union is far and away the predominant winter sport, other sports like Rugby League, soccer , Basketball and hockey were seen as poor cousins to "The game". It was (and still is really) utterly male dominated (although the women's competition has grown markedly in the last 20 years) and the majority of the countries best and toughest athletes play the game.

The game is played hard but mostly fair and if a forward comes off the field without some sprig marks somewhere on the body or some obvious physical testament to hard graft they are likely to be given a hard time for not getting in amongst it. The "pretty boys" in the backs could often escape this and there was constant friendly banter between the backs and forwards as to who was the most valuable to the game. Opposing teams would tear into each other asking and expecting no quarter on the field, but would happily mix and socialise after the game was over, "what happens on the field, stays on the field" (mostly)...

Players start young, I can still remember at an early age, around 8 yrs old, playing in bare feet on a field covered in crisp, frozen, frosty grass at 8.00 in the morning, I think that's why we could run so fast !!. With the numbers of kids playing the game we had to start early because there were so many games to get through. I can remember the anticipation and excitement of playing on Saturday mornings, the sheer joy of scoring a try to just being able to let loose all of the childhood energy. And of course as you got older your games started later in the mornings so not so much frost around.

The Real Enjoyment of the Game in its Purest Form

Pure Happiness Playing the Game
Pure Happiness Playing the Game

The Mighty All Blacks

Well, where can I start, our beloved All Blacks, the embodiment of Kiwi manhood and masculinity without argument the most successful international sports team, in any sport, in the world with a 76% winning record. They have a better winning percentage against all of the best teams, they have a 100% record against 9 of the top 15 teams worldwide, quite simply they are awesome.

Because of the depth of penetration into our society for over 100 years the All Blacks have maintained a level of skill and tenacity that has built an aura of invincibility which is worth points before they even take the field. Whether opposing teams care to admit it or not there is an aura about the All Blacks, built up over the years by the sheer hardness and skill they display and the ability to somehow win games they maybe shouldn't have.

When we look back we see national heroes that are household names, People like George Nepia, Don Clarke, Colin (pinetree) Meads, Michael Jones and our current god and modern time gentleman Richie McCaw. Tough buggers like Kevin Skinner who tamed the 1956 Springboks and the unfortunate Kieth Murdock (some say the strongest prop forward to ever don the black jersey) whose life was changed forever when he was sent home from Wales when he decked a security guard after a night out post match.

Every young rugby playing boy aspires to be an all black one day.

Anyhow i could go on endlessly about the All Blacks but I'm sure you get the picture, they are a unique phenomenon in world sport, from their pre match Haka wardance to their sheer determination to win every game. They are defending World Cup champions and # ! ranked team in the game and have managed to keep their noses ahead of the pack with their winning ability and attitude. I can't wait for the world Cup which starts 18 September and runs until the final on 31 October, it's going to be very tough with a clutch of teams, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, France, England all valid contenders. But I'm confident the AB's will come through and maintain their rightful place as Number 1.

The Great Jonah Lomu Shows His Class


You will have to excuse my enthusiasm for this subject but the more I got into this article the more I felt I could rave on indefinitely. Anyhow thank you for taking the time to read the blog and I hope this has given you an insight to the game they play in heaven.


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