Rugby in New Zealand - a national obsession

Rugby is far more than just a game in New Zealand, it is a way of life.

Rugby is far more than just a game and is a national passion and a determining influence on New Zealand life and culture. 

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

When The Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan kicks off, once again all eyes will be on New Zealand's national team, The All Blacks.

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. Despite not yet being in black the New Zealand rugby team began it's dominance from an early stage. 

In 1903, New Zealand played and beat Australia in their first official test match. The fierce rivalry continues today and the two countries annually play each other for the Bledisloe Cup. 

It wasn't until 1905, when the New Zealand side donned a black jersey with a silver fern, that the original All Blacks were formed. They toured through the British Isles, France and the United States of America playing 35 matches and losing only 1. They scored 976 points and conceded only 59 cementing the All Blacks' reputation as fearsome competitors, one that they still live up to today. The original All Blacks 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 legend 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 people. 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 13 times since, the last being the 2017 tour. 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 41 times winning only seven games, losing 30 and four ending in a draw.

The Lions tend to tour New Zealand every twelve years with their next clash predicited for 2029. 

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.

It would be 24 years before New Zealand hosted the tournament again and raised the trophy as champions of the world. The All Blacks spent four agonisng tournaments labelled as chokers before once again lifting the William Webb Ellis Cup in front of a sold out Eden Park. They stamped their mark again in 2015 winning the title in England and now look to make it three in a row in Japan when the Rugby World Cup kicks off in September 2019.