Story: Māori rugby – whutupaoro

Page 3. Rugby union, 1949 to 2000s

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1949 dual tour

With the All Blacks touring South Africa in 1949, the New Zealand Maoris were dispatched to Australia that same year. With Māori excluded from the team sent to play the Springboks, the New Zealand Maoris included six All Blacks – Kiwi Blake, Ron Bryers, Brownie Cherrington, Ben Couch, Tori Reid and Peter Smith. With such skilled players, the team drew the series against Australia, with one win each and one draw. The same result occurred in 1958 when New Zealand Maoris again took on the best of Australian rugby.

Loss against South Africa

In 1956 the Māori team played against South Africa. In front of 60,000 fans at Eden Park in Auckland, the New Zealand Maoris were thrashed 37–0 by the tourists, In 2010 the team’s fullback, Muru Walters, suggested that Minister of Māori Affairs Ernest Corbett had told them they had to lose the game.

Māori style

The New Zealand Maoris suffered indifferent results in the 1950s and 1960s, with many lamenting a loss of the Māori style of game. Many believed this was because, with increasing urbanisation, Māori players were being taught by Pākehā coaches in the cities. The low point of this period was the series loss against Tonga in 1969.

Grin and bare it

When New Zealand Maoris took on the All Blacks in 1973, All Black coach J. J. Stewart promised to bare his buttocks outside Auckland Post Office if the All Blacks lost. With 27 minutes to play and the scores locked at 8–all, Stewart must have been a worried man. However, two quick tries by Bruce Robertson removed this threat to public decency.


The rise of Māori rugby during the 1970s coincided with the 1971 appointment of former All Black Waka Nathan as coach. He advocated a style of rugby for which Māori were renowned. Many Māori players became All Blacks during this era, including All Black captain Tane Norton, Billy Bush, Kent Lambert, Eddie Stokes, Vance Stewart, Bob Barber, Ken Going, Sid Going, George Skudder and Buff Milner.

In 1975 the Māori team defeated their bogey team Tonga for the first time, after four losses since 1960.

Māori rugby in the 1980s

For the New Zealand Maoris the 1980s was a tale of two tours. In 1982 they toured Wales and Spain, posting losses against Swansea, Llanelli and a Welsh XV. Six years later the side travelled to Italy, France, Argentina and Spain, winning 10 matches under the leadership of All Black captain Buck Shelford, who described the style of game they played as ‘champagne rugby’.1

1990s under Matt Te Pou

The 1990s heralded a new era for Māori rugby. From 1995, under the leadership of Vietnam veteran Matt Te Pou, the New Zealand Maoris won 33 of their 38 matches, including victories over Argentina, England and Scotland. The match against the British Lions in 2005 was Te Pou’s last as coach. New Zealand Maoris finally beat the Lions at the seventh attempt.


2010 was the centenary season for the Māori All Blacks, who defeated the New Zealand Barbarians, Ireland and England. In addition, the South African government apologised for the exclusion of Māori players from past All Blacks teams. The New Zealand Rugby Union and the South African Rugby Union followed up with their own apologies.

  1. Quoted in Malcolm Mulholland, Beneath the Māori moon: an illustrated history of Māori rugby. Wellington: Huia, 2009, p. 217. Back
How to cite this page:

Malcolm Mulholland, 'Māori rugby – whutupaoro - Rugby union, 1949 to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 April 2024)

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