New Zealand Rugby Museum fields rare 1st XV

The NZ Rugby Museum in Palmerston North holds more than 40,000 pieces of New Zealand rugby memorabilia.

At the top of the list is the precious First XV representing 15 of the most important pieces of rugby memorabilia in the world.

The 15 rare rugby pieces are among the stars at the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North, in the North Island's Manawatu region.

Amongst the precious exhibits are the first emblem - not a silver fern, but a golden version of the iconic New Zealand symbol - a cap from 1888, early rugby jerseys, books, balls, and game programmes.

The Rugby Museum has 40,000 items of New Zealand rugby heritage dating back to the first game played in 1870.

First rugby fern

When New Zealanders first played overseas, they sported dark blue rugby jerseys with a simple hand-stitched gold fern leaf.

After New South Wales - the first ‘outsiders’ - toured New Zealand in 1882, the ‘golden Kiwi’ colonials returned the visit two years later, wearing this rare jersey emblem while whipping the opposition on its home soil.

The New Zealand Rugby Union replaced the colourful uniform a decade later changing blue to black, and gold to silver - a combination that became the All Blacks’ uniform.

First New Zealand rugby anthem

One of New Zealand’s favourite rugby folk songs, On the Ball was written in Palmerston North in 1887 by English-born rugby pioneer and part-time musician Ted Secker.

Secker - captain of the 1887 Manawatu ‘Unscorables’ - wrote the ditty to boost team morale. It became famous when it was sung by the touring 1888 ‘Native’ and 1905 ‘Originals’ teams, and popularised at matches, schools and clubs throughout New Zealand.

After WWII, the printed score became scarce, but a rare copy - that had been rescued from the wall lining of a shearer’s hut - was presented to the NZ Rugby Museum in 1975.

"On the Ball, On the Ball, On the Ball!
Thro’ scrummage, three-quarters and all,
Sticking together, we keep on the leather
And shout as we go ‘On the Ball’!"

Rare rugby cap

A representative cap from the famed 1888 - 89 ‘Native’ tour to Great Britain is one of only four in existence. Most caps were buried with their Māori owners, along with other prized possessions, which makes this one of the world’s rarest.

The cap was worn by G A ‘Bully’ Williams, one of four non-Māori members of the team, who became acting captain and tactician on the tour - despite claiming he’d never handled an oval ball until aged 24.

The marathon tour lasted a gruelling 14 months, with a total of 107 games played, averaging three a week.

Personal items from Charles Monro

The museum holds a treasured collection of keepsakes, diaries and photographs belonging to the man who pioneered rugby in New Zealand - Palmerston North and Nelson identity Charles Monro.

Items include Monro’s manuka walking stick which immortalises his determination to see rugby established in New Zealand. In 1870 Monro walked 30km searching for the perfect paddock for the first inter-district clash between Nelson and Wellington.

Monro not only selected and coached the Wellington novice team, but also played for Nelson and refereed the game at the same time.

Rare match programme

The oldest known match programme for New Zealand’s first official team is also part of the rare first XV display. The ‘Fifteen of New Zealand versus Wellington’ game was played on 21 June 1893 at Petone.

It was the first official fixture played by the national side after the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) formed in 1892.

The cover shows a tobacconist alerting match-goers to his ‘Novel Competition’ - in which the princely sum of £10 was given away.

Rare rugby book

Back in 1902, Thomas (Tom) Rangiwahia Ellison - also known as Tamati Erihana of Ngai Tahu and Te Ati Awa tribes - penned one of New Zealand’s earliest rugby books: The Art of Rugby Football.

A true rugby pioneer, Tom Ellison also devised the indigenous 2-3-2 scrum and wing forward position.

Ellison played in the 1888 - 89 Native team, captained and coached the first New Zealand rugby team and, at the first annual meeting of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union in 1893, proposed the national uniform comprise a black jersey with a silver fern.

Rare touring jersey

A 1904 touring jersey came from New Zealand’s first international rugby test played at home against Great Britain. The jersey was on the back of Welsh wing Willie Llewellyn when he ran onto Wellington’s Athletic Park in front of an incredible 20,000 spectators.

With Wellington’s population at around just 40,000 at the time, the huge crowd illustrated the excitement generated by a grand sporting event, particularly as the colonial All Blacks beat the Lions 9 - 3.

Thought to be the oldest Great Britain jersey outside the British Isles, Willie Llewellyn presented it to museum founder John Sinclair in 1967.

New Zealand’s oldest All Blacks jersey

A 1905 ‘Originals’ All Blacks jersey is another rare piece. The design of the almost skin-tight, collarless jersey, which was worn by Taranaki farmer Jimmy Hunter during his stint with the 1905 ‘Originals’, bears a strong resemblance to today’s high-performance modern rugby jerseys.

The jersey was made from fine wool with a quilted, waxed linen yoke designed to repel water, the neck was edged with leather and laced up the front.

The distinctive jersey caused much comment on the ‘Originals’ tour of Great Britain, and the tour itself gave the fledgling All Blacks name and game greater currency and popularity abroad.

Historic rugby whistle

Now starting on its second century at work, this well-travelled 1905 ‘Originals’ tour whistle has often been at the heart of New Zealand’s historic rugby moments.

It first appeared in the hands of Welsh referee Gil Evans on the 1905 ‘Originals’ All Blacks tour of the United Kingdom. After Evans presented it to fellow referee Albert Freethy, it was used in games played by the 1924 / 25 ‘Invincibles’ All Blacks, and in the rugby final at the 1924 Olympics.

Gifted to the museum for its opening in 1969, the whistle returned to the field in 1987, and has been used ever since to start the opening game of each Rugby World Cup.

NZ's oldest rugby ball

One of New Zealand’s oldest rugby balls is a signed souvenir of the first clash between NZ and the US - All Blacks vs ‘California All Stars’ - in 1913.

The All Blacks toured California to help promote rugby union as an alternative to American football, and its leather surface is tattooed with the spidery ink signatures of the All Blacks team that thrashed the All-America crew 51-3 in San Francisco.

Some have blamed the hammering the All Blacks gave the fledgling Yankee teams on this tour for stunting the growth of the game there, but the USA did bounce back to win rugby at the Olympics in 1920 and 1924.

Historic kiwi mascot

Evocative of the times, this stuffed kiwi bird - in a specially-designed wooden travelling case - was the mascot of the 1924 - 25 ‘Invincibles’ All Blacks touring team.

As a gift destined for the first team to beat the All Blacks on their tour of Great Britain and France, the kiwi boarded ship on a one-way ticket.

But, as the team proved invincible and the gift exchange never transpired so the kiwi returned home with its triumphant team-mates and supporters.

Historic florin coin

Spun in the air at London’s revered Twickenham rugby ground on 3 January 1925, this ‘lucky’ florin won the toss for the New Zealand ‘Invincibles’ team in their victorious match against England.

Apparently referee Albert Freethy and team captains Jock Richardson (NZ) and Wavell Wakefield (England) came onto the field without a coin.

Fortunately, All Blacks supporter D G Gray of Dunedin, who was seated nearby, lent them a florin. Thrilled that his coin had been used in the All Blacks 17 - 11 win, Gray had it embossed with a fern on one side and a rose on the other.

The coin came out of retirement in 1987, and has been used ever since for the toss at opening games of the Rugby World Cup.

Rugby at war

A 1945 - 46 ‘Kiwis’ rugby jersey - worn by members of the famed second New Zealand Expeditionary Force rugby team - is a poignant memento of rugby at war.

During WWII, New Zealand soldiers were commonly called ‘Kiwis’ - a name that stuck and is now used to describe all New Zealanders.

The museum jersey was worn by Kiwi vice-captain Jack Finlay, from Manawatu, during the team’s post-war tour of the UK, Ireland, France and Germany.

War-weary New Zealand followed the team’s entertaining brand of rugby via radio commentaries by sports broadcaster Winston McCarthy - the first live rugby broadcasts to NZ from the UK.

Clarke’s famous boot

All Black fullback Don Clarke’s famed boot - still carrying original Lancaster Park dirt on its sprigs - is another piece of prize rugby memorabilia.

The colossal 1.88m tall Don ‘The Boot’ Clarke wore this boot on his legendary debut against the 1956 Springboks in Christchurch. It was also the boot behind decisive penalties in the final two tests, when Clarke helped the All Blacks win their first-ever series over the Springboks - described as "the most bitterly-fought series in history".

Clarke held the fullback position for eight years during which he was a match winner beyond compare, scoring a whopping 781 points - including eight tries - for New Zealand over 89 matches.

Sharps of Sabotage

‘Sharps of Sabotage’ - glass, pins and fish hooks concealed inside tennis balls - forms a poignant reminder from the 1981 Springbok tour.

The balls fired on Lancaster Park, in Christchurch, by anti-tour demonstrators are sharp reminders of the depth of feeling unleashed against the tour.

Although the mass protests and civil unrest of the 1981 tour are seen as the pinnacle of the rugby and race debate, protests against playing South African teams began as early as 1960 when the All Blacks bowed to the republic’s race laws by selecting a team devoid of non-white players.

Background: New Zealand Rugby Museum

The New Zealand Rugby Museum is one of New Zealand’s most important cultural attractions.

At its central Palmerston North location - opened in time for the 2011 Rugby World Cup - the museum offers New Zealand’s most extensive rugby history experience. Alongside the vast collection of memorabilia and historic information, the museum is also a place to experience rugby culture, connect with the heroes, be physically challenged by interactive exhibits, and gain a sense of the compelling nature of the beloved national game.

The New Zealand Rugby Museum was the first national rugby museum in the world and - given the country’s long and respected links with the sport - is recognised globally as one of the most important resources for rugby historians and the media.

As well as the New Zealand rugby’s Rare XV exhibit, other significant collections housed at the museum include:

  • rugby heroes and legends through the decades
  • history and folklore
  • stories of how rugby has shaped New Zealand as a nation.