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 Māori All Blacks were dispatched to Australia that same year. As Māori were excluded from the team sent to play the Springboks, the Māori All Black team included six All Blacks – Brownie Cherrington, Peter Smith, Ben Couch, Ron Bryers, Kiwi Blake and Tori Reid. 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 yet again the Māori All Blacks 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 Māori All Blacks received a thrashing at the hands of the tourists, 37–0. In 2010 the team’s former fullback Muru Walters suggested that Minister of Māori Affairs Ernest Corbett had told the Māori All Blacks they had to lose the game.

Māori style

The Māori All Blacks would continue to suffer 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

The Māori All Blacks took on the All Blacks in 1973, with All Black coach J. J. Stewart promising 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, after two quick tries by Bruce Robertson, Stewart did not have to deliver on his threat.


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 rose to the ranks of the All Blacks during that 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 won against Tonga for the first time. Tonga was a bogey team for the Māori All Blacks, who had not beaten them in four matches since 1960.

Māori rugby in the 1980s

For the Māori All Blacks 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 played on tour 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 Māori All Blacks won 33 of 38 matches and enjoyed victories over Argentina, England and Scotland. The match against the British Lions in 2005 was Te Pou’s last as coach. The Māori All Blacks were finally victorious after having first met the team in 1930 and played them seven times.


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 the All Blacks teams. The New Zealand Rugby Union and the South African Rugby Union followed with an apology.

  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 17 December 2018)

Story by Malcolm Mulholland, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 27 Jan 2015