Māori rugby timeline

Page 1 – Introduction

British Isles vs NZ Maori programme
British Isles vs NZ Maori programme

This timeline covers some of the key events and major players in the history of Māori rugby. It was compiled to mark the centenary of the first official New Zealand Māori team.


  • New Zealand’s first known football match played under rules developed at Rugby, an English public school, takes place at Aramoho, near Whanganui, on 19 June.


  • A football match under rugby rules is played in Nelson on 14 May.


  • Wirihana, the first Māori player whose name is known, takes the field in a rugby match in Whanganui.


  • Joe Warbrick, a 15-year-old pupil at St Stephen’s Native School, becomes New Zealand’s youngest ever first-class player when he turns out for Auckland against Otago on 16 August.


  • Several all-Māori club teams are formed in areas with mainly Māori populations. Many other Māori play alongside Pākehā.


  • Te Aute College’s first XV wins the Hawke’s Bay club championship for the first time. It will compete in the senior grade for the next half-century.


  • Joe Warbrick and Jack Taiaroa tour New South Wales with the first New Zealand representative team.


  • The New Zealand Natives – selected and captained by Warbrick – become the first representative rugby team to tour Britain. Twenty-one of the 26 players are Māori. The team wins 78 of its 107 rugby games.


  • The New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) is formed to control the game throughout the colony.


  • Lawyer Tom Ellison captains the first official New Zealand representative team on a tour of Australia. Two other members of the 1888/89 Natives – David (‘Pony’) Gage and William (‘Tabby’) Wynyard – and Hawke’s Bay forward Hoeroa Tiopira are also in this team.


  • Gage becomes the third official New Zealand captain. His team beats Queensland 9–nil at Wellington’s Athletic Park on 15 August.


  • Ellison’s innovative coaching manual, The art of rugby football, is published.
  • Dynamic winger Albert (‘Opai’) Asher represents North Island and is a member of the unbeaten Auckland team that is the first to be awarded the Ranfurly Shield. Next year he plays for New Zealand.


  • A Māori XV beats the touring British 8–6 in an unofficial match at Rotorua on 22 August.
  • Te Aute College’s first XV tours New South Wales.



  • The Anglo-Welsh touring team defeat an Arawa XV 24–3 at Rotorua on 21 July.
  • A Māori team led by Asher tours New South Wales, converting to rugby league on arrival in Sydney.


  • The first Māori team selected with NZRFU permission plays its first match against a Rotorua team, winning 25–5. Managed by Wiremu (‘Ned’) Parata, Māori rugby’s first leading administrator, it tours Australia and New Zealand, winning 12 and drawing 3 of 19 matches. Team member R. Nuku of South Auckland achieves a unique double – he also played for the first New Zealand Universities team, in Australia in 1908.


  • NZ Māori lose 8–9 to South Africa in Napier amidst controversy. A reporter travelling with the Springboks is outraged that the spectators support ‘coloured men’ against ‘members of their own race’. His cable is leaked to the press.


  • A Māori Advisory Board with representation on the NZRFU’s management committee is established, bringing Māori rugby formally under NZRFU auspices.
  • NZ Māori play the All Blacks for the first time, losing 14–21 at Athletic Park.


  • Lui Paewai is believed to be 17 years old when he takes the field for New Zealand against New South Wales in Wellington, becoming the youngest ever All Black.


  • Nineteen-year-old George Nēpia from Wairoa is the only fullback selected for the All Black tour of Britain and France. Including warm-up fixtures, he plays in 38 consecutive matches for the ‘Invincibles’. Having played a Māori trial match at the age of 16, Nēpia will become New Zealand’s oldest first-class player when he turns out for Olympians in 1950, aged 45. His son George plays opposite him at fullback for Poverty Bay.


  • Te Aute College wins the Moascar Cup, the symbol of secondary school rugby supremacy since 1920.


  • The first official NZ Māori team to tour the northern hemisphere wins 30 matches and draws two on a 40-game tour organised after Māori are declared to be ineligible for the All Blacks’ 1928 tour of South Africa. All but one of 15 matches in France are won. The Māori’s 12–3 victory over the national team in Paris on Boxing Day encourages the French to adopt a more open style of play.


  • Tai Tokerau becomes the first winner of the Prince of Wales Cup, which is also contested by Tai Rāwhiti, Tai Hauāuru and Te Waipounamu. In 1963 this tournament is replaced by a match between Northern (from Bay of Plenty and Waikato north) and Southern Māori.


  • The Springboks do not play NZ Māori during their 17-match tour of New Zealand.


  • NZ Māori tour Fiji for the first time, beginning an ongoing relationship with rugby in the Pacific.


  • Leading Aircraftsman John (Hoani) MacDonald becomes the first Maori known to have represented another leading rugby nation when he plays for England against Wales while serving with the RNZAF in Britain. A member of the 1926 NZ Māori touring team, MacDonald also rowed for New Zealand at the 1930 Empire Games and the 1932 Olympics.


  • 28 (Māori) Battalion wins the Divisional Commander’s (Freyberg) Cup contested in Egypt between units of 2NZEF. It also defeats a South African army team.


  • NZ Māori beats Australia 20–nil at Hamilton.


  • Despite protests, Māori players are not considered for the tour of South Africa. The All Blacks are whitewashed in the test series.
  • The first Tom French Cup for the outstanding Māori player of the year is awarded to the North Auckland midfield back Johnny Smith.
  • Smith and Ben Couch are selected for a third-string All Black team that loses two tests against Australia. NZ Māori does manage to beat Australia, drawing a three-match series.


  • Manawatū’s Hiwi Tauroa makes his debut for NZ Māori. He will coach Counties to victory in the 1979 National Provincial Championship and become New Zealand’s Race Relations Conciliator the following year.


  • Peter Tapsell tours Fiji with NZ Māori. In 1993 he will become the first Māori Speaker of New Zealand’s House of Representatives.


  • NZ Māori lose a much-anticipated rematch with South Africa 37–0 at Eden Park. Māori Affairs Minister Ernest Corbett has asked the team to ‘take it easy’ on the Springboks. Three key players are carrying injuries, and keeping the match tight in the forwards doesn’t help their chances.


  • NZ Māori draws another series with Australia.


  • NZ Māori plays in Tonga and Samoa for the first time.
  • Many New Zealanders protest at the exclusion of Māori players from the All Black squad which tours South Africa.


  • Six old boys of Kaitaia College play for NZ Māori in the 5–3 win over France at Napier: Pat Walsh (captain), Ted Thompson, Muru Walters, Bill Wordley, Rod Yates and Victor Yates.


  • North Auckland’s Muru Walters plays his last game for NZ Māori. His 211 points for the team remains a record. Walters later becomes Anglican Bishop of Te Upoko o Te Ika.


  • Flanker Waka Nathan – the ‘Black Panther’ – scores two tries in the third test against the touring British Lions. In 14 tests he never plays in a losing All Black side. Nathan coaches NZ Māori from 1971 to 1977.
  • The NZRFU announces that it will not send a whites-only team to South Africa in 1967, and the scheduled tour by the All Blacks does not go ahead.


  • No NZ Māori team is assembled in the NZRFU’s 75th jubilee year.


  • Three Māori players (and Samoan Bryan Williams) tour South Africa with the All Blacks. They are treated as ‘honorary whites’ by their hosts.


  • Sid Going, the most gifted of three North Auckland brothers to play together in the backs for NZ Māori, becomes the first-choice halfback for the All Blacks. His penetrative running sees him win the Tom French Cup six years in a row.


  • The Labour government ‘postpones’ a scheduled Springbok tour until the South African team is selected on merit.


  • The All Blacks make what turns out to be their last tour of white-ruled South Africa. The squad includes five Māori (and Williams).


  • A proposed tour of South Africa by NZ Māori is cancelled.
  • Hooker Tane Norton, aged 35, becomes the oldest ever All Blacks’ captain and leads the team to a series victory over the British Lions.


  • Te Aute College wins the Moascar Cup from fellow Māori boarding school St Stephen’s.


  • A Springbok squad which includes one ‘coloured’ player is officially welcomed to New Zealand at Gisborne’s Te Poho o Rawiri marae on 19 July. Couch, now Minister of Māori Affairs and Police, is a vocal supporter of a tour which divides the nation, sometimes violently.
  • South Africa plays NZ Māori at Napier. The match ends 12-all after a last-minute Springbok attempt at a dropped goal is ruled to have gone over. Twenty-five years later, the kicker admits that it did not.


  • NZ Māori tours Wales and then trounces Spain in Barcelona.


  • Twenty-eight of the 30 players selected for the 1985 All Black tour of South Africa that was cancelled as a result of last-minute legal action take part in the unofficial ‘Cavaliers’ tour of the republic. This squad includes eight Māori.


  • NZ Māori tours Italy, France, Spain and Argentina. Captained by Wayne (‘Buck’) Shelford, it loses only one of its 10 matches.


  • NZ Māori’s role in the NZRU’s centenary year is to play what is effectively a Bay of Plenty side.


  • NZ Māori takes part in a pre-season tournament in South Africa, reaching the semi-finals of the M-Net Nite Series.
  • The first post-apartheid Springbok team to tour New Zealand includes just one ‘coloured’ player. It does not play NZ Māori.


  • Hard-nosed former soldier Matt Te Pou begins an 11-year stint as coach of NZ Māori, during which the team wins 35 of its 40 matches.


  • In a unique double-header, NZ Māori Colts beats Japan A 53–­21 before NZ Māori thrashes a depleted England 62–14.
  • NZ Māori beats Scotland 24–8 in Edinburgh.
  • All Blacks (and NZ Māori representatives) Eric Rush and Dallas Seymour play key roles in the victory of the New Zealand sevens team in the Commonwealth Games at Kuala Lumpur. Four years later, Rush wins gold again at Manchester, aged 37.


  • NZ Māori plays Argentina for the first time, winning 43–24 in Rotorua.
  • Ngāti Porou East Coast reaches the final of the National Provincial Championships Second Division, losing narrowly to Hawke’s Bay.


  • NZ Māori wins both its matches against the Canadian national team.


  • NZ Māori wins the Churchill Cup in Canada at its first attempt, defeating the USA and England A. The team wins the Churchill Cup again in 2006.


  • NZ Māori beats the British and Irish Lions for the first time, 19–13 in Hamilton.


  • Dr Farah Palmer retires after playing 35 tests for the New Zealand women’s team, 30 as captain. Under the Manawatū hooker’s leadership, the Black Ferns have won three World Cups, two Canada Cups and a Churchill Cup.


  • The Aotearoa Maori Women’s sevens team wins the Hong Kong tournament for the sixth successive year.


  • NZ Māori wins the Pacific Nations Cup, beating Tonga, Fiji, Samoa, Japan and then Australia A 21–18 in the final.


  • South Africa’s Sports Minister and the South African Rugby Union apologise for the exclusion of Māori players from tours of South Africa in 1928, 1949 and 1960. So does the New Zealand Rugby Union, against the advice of its Māori Rugby Board.
  • NZ Māori plays three matches in June to mark the official centenary of Māori rugby. It plays Ireland for the first time, winning 31–28, and beats England 35–28.
How to cite this page

'Māori rugby timeline', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/maori-rugby, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 30-May-2023

Community contributions

3 comments have been posted about Māori rugby timeline

What do you know?

Roger Tapsell

Posted: 31 Aug 2018

I have a digital photo of a 1913 NZ Maori Team, W Patata was the manager, but no mention on this website.

Micheal Hullah

Posted: 08 Oct 2010

1910 Te Aute college tours Australia for second time. Play 5 games. 1892? NZ team to Aust has 3 Te Aute college OB in it. Gage, Ellison, Tiopira.