Story of New Zealand rugby

For more than 140 years, rugby has played a major role in the New Zealand culture.

For over 140 years, the sport of rugby has been a national passion and a determining influence on New Zealand life and culture.

Rugby has helped shape modern Kiwis into a proud, sporting, innovative nation determined to make its mark on the world.

First NZ rugby game

Nelson, a provincial city on the northern tip of the South Island, became New Zealand's spiritual home of rugby in May 1870 when the first rugby game - under official rugby rules - was played on New Zealand soil.

By 1879, the game's popularity was spreading and the first rugby unions were formed in Canterbury and Wellington.

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was established in 1892.

First New Zealand rugby team

The first national touring New Zealand rugby team - sporting blue jerseys with a golden fern - played and won a series of eight games in New South Wales in 1884.

In 1903, New Zealand beat Australia in their first official test match.

The original All Blacks - wearing the black jersey and silver fern - stormed through Britain and Europe in 1905 and will forever be known as 'The Originals'.

Rugby players

Over the decades, New Zealand rugby players have earned a name as proud, hard-hitting and skillful sportsmen.

From George Nepia and the Brownlie brothers in the 1920s and '30s, to the brilliance of Colin Meads and Don Clarke in the '60s - and the continually evolving list of internationally renowned Kiwi names - the All Blacks have earned respect wherever they've played.

All Black captain Richie McCaw credits the grit of those early men of New Zealand rugby with instilling the pride and passion in today's generation of All Blacks.

"Traditionally we've been off-the-land sort of people, pretty strong rugged people … and when they got out in the field they were tough, hard men. That's why they had success in the earlier years and it's just carried on," McCaw says.

British and Irish Lions rivalry

The British and Irish Lions first toured New Zealand in 1888 bringing with them a 35 man side on a tour that lasted over five months. 

There were no test matches during the tour but the Lions played 19 games on New Zealand soil against provincial unions losing only two matches.

The Lions have only visited New Zealand 12 times since, making the 2017 tour the 13th pilgrmage for the side. Throughout the years the British and Irish Lions' battles with the All Blacks and the unions have become the stuff of legend. The Lions have played the All Blacks a total of 38 times winning only six games, losing 29 and three ending in a draw.

The highly anticipated 2017 tour will no doubt further add to the history and respect between these two rugby giants. 

Rugby World Cup 

International rugby competition moved to another level when New Zealand and Australia convinced the IRB (International Rugby Board) to bring the world's best rugby sides together in one tournament - the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

It was also a crowning moment in the history of the All Blacks who crushed Italy 70 - 6 in an historic opening match, and scored 43 tries on the way to the inaugural world title with a 29 - 9 final victory over France.

The Rugby World Cup helped launch the careers of All Black greats Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke, and established the legendary status of Sean Fitzpatrick, Wayne Shelford, John Kirwan and Grant Fox.

The 1991 World Cup, hosted by England, was less successful for an ageing All Black side that was ousted in the semi-finals by eventual champions Australia.

In 1995, in South Africa, the All Blacks - coached by Laurie Mains and with young stars like Andrew Merhtens, Josh Kronfeld, Jeff Wilson, and Jonah Lomu - were eager to win back the mantle of the world's top rugby nation. But, after a mystery illness on the eve of the final, they lost 15 - 12 to South Africa.

The All Blacks dominated their pool at the 1999 World Cup in the UK and France, but were upset by a fired-up French side at the semi finals. While Australia took the championship for the second time, New Zealand had to settle for fourth place.

After winning the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup, the All Blacks had high expectations for the 2003 RWC in Australia. They beat South Africa for the first time at World Cup in the quarter finals, but stumbled against Australia in the semis. The All Blacks returned home with a bronze medal, and the consolation of scoring the most points, including a record 52 tries.

Leading into the 2007 World Cup, the All Blacks had played 424 tests, and won 314 of them - a 74 percent success rate - but they eventually lost to France in the quarter finals played in Wales.

In 2011 the Rugby World Cup returned to New Zealand 24 years after the first ever tournament. The All Blacks went to win their second ever World Cup title 8-7 in a hard fought final against France.