Story: Māori rugby – whutupaoro

Page 1. Origins of Māori rugby union

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Māori have had a long involvement in the sport of rugby. The first recorded Māori player, Wirihana, was probably Wirihana Puna, a lieutenant under Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui (Major Kemp) during the New Zealand wars. He took part in a game at Aramoho, Whanganui, in 1872.

From individual involvement came the formation of rugby clubs in which all or the majority of players were Māori. A Māori club, Hauraki, was formed in 1883.

Māori have enjoyed strong representation in the All Blacks over the years. The very first New Zealand national team, which toured New South Wales in 1884, included Māori players Jack Taiaroa (Ngāi Tahu) and Joe Warbrick (Te Arawa).

In the 2000s the Māori All Blacks (formerly called New Zealand Maoris) continued a long tradition of national Māori rugby teams.

1888/1889 Native team

Joe Warbrick was a key figure in the creation of the 1888/1889 Native team. The squad was initially supposed to comprise only Māori players, but with a lack of depth in certain positions, management invited five non-Māori to join. The 1888 Natives toured New Zealand, Australia, and the British Isles for 15 months, playing 107 matches. It was the first time a New Zealand-based team had sailed further than Australia, and remains the longest rugby tour ever.

The 1888/1889 Native team left an enduring contribution to rugby. They amassed 78 victories despite at times being unable to field a full team due to injury, and even on occasion playing against opposing teams of more than 15 players to make the match ‘fairer’. The team played an expansive, 15-man style of game, and has been inducted into the International Rugby Board (IRB) rugby hall of fame.

Formation of NZRFU

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was formed in 1892. Tom Ellison (Ngāi Tahu), who had played in the 1888 Native team, suggested that the national uniform include a black jersey with a silver fern. Ellison captained the first team to play under the authority of the NZRFU, in Australia the following year. Ellison invented the 2–3–2 scrum and wrote the coaching manual The art of rugby football.

First official national team

The first officially sanctioned national rugby team of Māori players was assembled in 1910. The impetus for the NZRFU to agree to a Māori team came from the rival code of rugby league. In 1908 and 1909 a former New Zealand rugby representative, Albert 'Ōpai' Asher (Te Arawa) had organised New Zealand Māori rugby league teams to tour Australia. With the exodus of players to rugby league, a concern for rugby union bosses, the NZRFU allowed the founding father of Māori rugby, Wiremu 'Ned' Teihoka Parata (Ngāi Tahu), to take a team to Australia in 1910.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm Mulholland, 'Māori rugby – whutupaoro - Origins of Māori rugby union', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-rugby-whutupaoro/page-1 (accessed 28 October 2020)

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