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Hawke's Bay rugby - roadside stories

Hawke's Bay's rugby team has a proud record of holding New Zealand's premier rugby trophy, the Ranfurly Shield. Hawke's Bay legend George Nepia, who toured with the 'Invincibles' All Black team in 1924-25, was one of the finest fullbacks ever. In 1921 McLean Park in Napier hosted the first-ever international game in New Zealand played by the New Zealand Māori side.


Audio archive: The Great Hawke's Bay Magpies D198 – D201 DCDR12

Narrator: McLean Park is the home of Hawke’s Bay rugby. The park is named after Scotsman Sir Donald McLean, who was the government’s chief land purchaser during the 19th century. McLean also ran a large sheep station at Maraekakaho, west of Hastings. The park stands on land donated by MacLean’s son, Douglas Maclean, an accomplished sportsman who once cycled all the way from Napier to Wellington on a penny-farthing bicycle.

The Hawke’s Bay Rugby Football Union is the oldest provincial union outside the four main centres. The ‘Magpies’, as Hawke’s Bay teams are known because of their black and white uniforms, have a proud record of holding the country’s premier rugby trophy, the Ranfurly Shield.

In 1921, McLean Park was the site of the first-ever international game played at home by the New Zealand Māori team. Their opponents were the Springboks, and a visiting South African reporter was horrified to see Pākehā, or Europeans, in the crowd supporting a Māori team.

South African journalist (actor's voice):  Bad enough having to play a team officially designated New Zealand Natives, but the spectacle of thousands of Europeans frantically cheering on a band of coloured men to defeat members of their own race was too much for the Springboks who were frankly disgusted.

Narrator: During the 1920s, the Magpies had a particularly successful Ranfurly Shield run. They scored 720 points in 24 successful Shield defences and conceded just 204. Though the team contained many star players, much of their success was due to Norm McKenzie, their astute selector and coach.

Hawke’s Bay gained the shield in 1922 with a shock 19-to-9 victory over a highly fancied Wellington team. McKenzie had assembled an excellent squad after scouring the province for men with individual brilliance who could also become effective team players. Thanks to a brilliant backline containing a number of players who went on to become All Blacks, Hawke’s Bay became New Zealand’s top provincial team over the next five seasons. The forwards were also well represented at All Black level through the famous Brownlie brothers, Cyril and Maurice.

During 1926 Hawke’s Bay dispatched some of New Zealand’s finest teams with ease – Wellington by 50 points, Auckland by 30, and Wairarapa by over 60.

However, over the next summer, the Magpies were rocked by a number of departures. In the first challenge of the 1927 season, Wairarapa grabbed the Shield with a hard-fought 15–11 win.

Hawke’s Bay legend George Nepia was one of Hawke’s Bay’s players to make the famous 1924/25 All Black touring team known as ‘The Invincibles.’ Nēpia is recognised as one of the finest fullbacks ever, but played his last test match aged only 25. His retirement was spurred by injuries, financial problems during the Great Depression, and disillusionment over not being selected for the 1928 All Black team to tour South Africa, simply because he was Māori.

Though Hawke’s Bay briefly held the shield in 1934, Bay supporters had to wait until 1966 for another successful reign. After beating Waikato at the end of the 1966 season, shield fever descended onto the Bay as the Magpies successfully defended the shield 21 times until finally relinquishing it in 1969. The team was coached by the meticulous Colin Le Quesne and captained by the famous flanker, Kel Tremain.

Tremain was a try-scoring machine. In 268 first-class matches he scored 136 tries, a record not beaten by another forward until Zinzan Brooke in the 1990s. Today the Magpies play in the top level of New Zealand’s provincial competition.


Manatū Taonga - Ministry for Culture and Heritage, 2011. Part of the Roadside Stories series

Archival audio sourced from Radio New Zealand Sound Archives, Sound files may not be reused without permission from Radio New Zealand Sound Archives (Reference number D198 - D201 DCDR12).

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Hawke's Bay rugby - roadside stories, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated