Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Here Come the Men in Black

Ka mate, ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Ka mate! ka mate! ka ora! ka ora!
Tēnei te tangata pūhuruhuru
Nāna nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te rā
Ā, upane! ka upane!
Ā, upane, ka upane, whiti te ra!
New Zealand 1820. The conflict known to posterity as the Musket Wars is in its early stages. This was an escalating cycle of increasingly bloody tribal warfare, fuelled by the arrival of Europeans who had revolutionised the traditional practice of raiding parties or taua through the introduction of both firearms and the humble potato. Better armed and better fed through these two innovations, obtained from European settlers, who had short-sightedly traded guns in exchange for land, the Maori had been able to launch ever more ambitious raids upon their neighbours.

A musket wielding Maori war party
It was whilst fleeing from one such bloody encounter on the North Island that the leader of a war party of the Ngati Toa tribe named Te Rauparaha sought to evade his pursuers by hiding in a food storage pit. He waited in the darkness and then at last the covering of the pit was pulled away. Blinking in the sunlight, Te Rauparaha did not know if it was a friend or an enemy who had discovered his hiding place. Were these his last moments or was he saved? It turned out that it was his ally who had found him, Te Whareangi; the hairy man. After clambering up gratefully into the sunlight to be greeted by his friend, Te Rauparaha decided to immortalise his deliverance in the words of a haka or ceremonial war dance, which are at the top of this post. It translates as:
It is death, it is death, it is life, it is life,
It is death, it is death, it is life, it is life,
It is the hairy man,
Who brought the sun and caused it to shine,
A step upwards, another step upwards,
A step upwards, another step upwards, the sun shines.

Fast forward to 1888 and the natives had developed a taste for rugby as well as guns and potatoes. There had been touring parties of rugby players to Australia endorsed by some or all of the New Zealand unions since 1883 but this latest undertaking was more ambitious in scope. After an eleven match warm up in New Zealand and Australia the 26 man squad, known as the 'Natives', comprising 21 players of Maori descent and 5 New Zealand born players of European descent, set out for Britain. On the way they played the first recorded match on Egyptian soil during a stop-over in Suez. The Natives seem to have been as much of a curiosity for the British spectators as a sporting spectacle.  Before each match the Maori were to perform a haka in their native dress for the entertainment of the crowd. The dressing up element was soon abandoned and the players instead performed the haka in their kit before getting stuck into the opposition. A tradition had been born. The Ka Mate haka is believed to have first been performed by an All Black side in 1906 and has been the favourite ever since with occasional variants.
1888 Natives XV in Queensland
The Natives' tour was a great success. They won 49 out of 74 games played on British soil including a victory over an Ireland national side, although they lost their matches against England and Wales and were also defeated by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. There was controversy in the match against England when the English player Andrew Stoddart lost his shorts. In the interests of decency the New Zealand players stopped playing whilst Stoddart recovered his attire, but an enterprising England player picked up the ball and ran in for a try. Three of the New Zealand players left the pitch in protest yet the referee, George Rowland Hill, who also happened to be the secretary of the RFU, so was not exactly impartial, both allowed the try and allowed play to continue whilst the three players were being persuaded to return. After leaving British shores, the Natives went on to win another 25 out of 32 matches played in Australia upon their return.
The Natives were not considered a true national team and so the first match considered to be a full international featuring a team representing New Zealand was played in 1903. The New Zealand team defeated the Australian national side 22-3 at Sydney cricket ground. Before the match the New Zealand team performed a haka with the words Tupoto koe, Kangaroo - Watch out Kangaroo! In the following year they inflicted a defeat on the Great Britain touring side in Wellington. See here for post on early Lions tours.
Punch cartoon 1905 - the unlicked cub
1905 saw the first true international New Zealand touring side set out for a grand tour of Europe and North America. Known simply as 'The Originals' their exploits have become the stuff of legend. It was this team who were the first to play in all black strip and so were quickly dubbed the 'All Blacks' by the British press. Arriving in Plymouth in September 1905 the New Zealanders first faced the Devon county side whom they swept aside in a 12 try demolition to win 55-4. Some of the stunned newspapers reported the score-line the wrong way around. The New Zealanders followed up with an 11 try 41-0 drubbing of Cornwall and then continued in the same vein as they toured the country, dishing out humiliation wherever they went. By the time they reached Scotland for their first international in mid November they had won 19 straight matches. 15 of these had been won without conceding a point. In Edinburgh they received a snooty reception from the gentlemen of the Scottish RFU who refused to socialise with the colonials. Un-phased, the All Blacks beat the Scots 12-7.
The superior professionalism of the New Zealanders; a dirty word amongst many in the British establishment, was the key to their success. They trained hard and they practiced their set piece drills. Unlike the British opposition, who simply piled in to the scrum in the order they arrived, each forward had a set position in the scrum. They scrummaged differently to the British teams who adopted the 8 man formation we are familiar with today. The All Blacks played with just 7 men in the scrum and only 2 players in the front row. This mismatch actually worked to the New Zealanders' advantage since by applying pressure to only one side of the scrum they were generally able to drive their opponents off the ball and this was an area in which they dominated. As well as being more organised, the All Blacks played with more attacking verve. The sight of the New Zealand full back actually counter-attacking rather than playing an entirely defensive role was considered highly novel. There was also much grumbling that the All Blacks played a little too rough, although there was less complaint amongst the workmanlike northern clubs than amongst the more genteel southern clubs.

All Blacks vs England 1905 - note the NZ scrummaging

The All Black steamroller continued. Ireland and England were both beaten 15-0. It was down to Wales to salvage some British pride. The Welsh had been doing their homework on the New Zealanders' unique scrummage and had come up with an innovation of their own. When the two sides met in Cardiff the Welsh also formed up with a seven man scrum but with four men in the front row. Only three would engage however and the spare man would then run around the back of the scrum and join in the second row on the loose head side, (explained better in the link at the bottom). The All Blacks were beaten at their own game and the Welsh dominated the scrum throughout. The only score of the game was a brilliantly worked try for Wales and the All Blacks suffered their only defeat of the tour. An equalising score by New Zealand was judged to have been short of the line and controversy continues to this day. The history books record however that it was Wales 3 New Zealand 0.

1906 Cartoon by NZ artist Trevor Lloyd celebrating the success of the All Blacks

That one loss was the only defeat in an otherwise incredible run of success. The All Blacks won their remaining four games on British soil, crossed the channel to crush France 38-0 and then crossed the Atlantic to tour America before heading home in triumph to a heroes' welcome. And they have never really looked back have they? No doubt we can look forward to some more of the same as the Rugby World Cup rolls into Blighty, albeit with less diverse tactics. Hopefully someone can give them a run for their money.

The Natives and the Originals - all the stats

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