Introduction to Rugby

More than a game: Rugby, the beating heart of New Zealand

Every Saturday morning during rugby season, thousands of people gather on grassy fields all across New Zealand to play the country’s most-loved game.

On summer evenings, thousands more take part in friendly rugby games at local parks.

In all seasons, kids can be found in suburban backyards kicking and passing around well-used rugby balls, imitating their favourite players.

And whenever the All Blacks play, Kiwis are glued to the television, or supporting live at the stadium, many of them proudly wearing the famous black jersey with the silver fern.

Rugby is woven into the fabric of New Zealand. It’s not only the national sport, it’s part of the national identity.

"For many of us in New Zealand, rugby’s a way of life - from hanging around the clubs at a young age supporting your local team to the pride we have in the success of our All Blacks.” - Ian Jones, former All Black

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Rugby takes root in a new land

Rugby arrives in Aotearoa

Rugby arrived in New Zealand with the early settlers from Britain, soon after the country was colonised in 1840.

Prior to European settlement, the indigenous Māori had invented a similar game called Kī-o-rahi - a fast-paced contact sport played with a woven flax ball.

The first games of rugby in New Zealand Rugby were probably played among new settlers after a hard day’s work.

But it’s likely that Māori were naturally drawn to rugby because of its closeness to Kī-o-rahi.

New Zealand’s first official game of rugby took place in Nelson - a provincial city at the top of the South Island - in May 1870.

In those days, rugby balls were made using inflated pig bladders, which is why they took on the distinctive oval shape.

The early era of dominance

In 1884, the first New Zealand representative rugby team toured New South Wales, Australia, and was unbeaten in eight matches.

A New Zealand Native team of mostly Māori players toured Britain - the birthplace of rugby - and Australia in 1888-89.

It was the first team to perform a haka and to wear the now iconic black jersey. New Zealand proved dominant again, winning 78 of 107 matches over a gruelling 14 months.

Image credit Peter Harold.

Our National Identity

Within the All Blacks Experience you will learn how the game become so closely tied to our national identity. Follow the journey a player makes from club rugby to the legendary All Blacks. 

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