Springboks play NZ Maoris for first time

7 September 1921

‘Bad enough having play team officially designated New Zealand Natives’, a South African journalist wrote of the match between the Springboks and a New Zealand Maoris XV at Napier. This was South Africa’s first tour of New Zealand and the journalist could not conceal his shock and disappointment at seeing white spectators supporting the Māori team.

His cable home continued:

Spectacle thousands Europeans frantically cheering on band of colored men to defeat members of own race was too much for Springboks, who frankly disgusted.

The tourists held on to win 9–8. When the cable fell into the hands of the radical newspaper New Zealand Truth, the Springboks’ manager did not deny that his players had been upset by remarks from the crowd. However, he refuted the journalist’s account of the team’s views: ‘They had the greatest admiration for the Natives as a race.’ His understanding was that the inflammatory cable would not be published in South Africa. The telegraphist found to have leaked it was later fired.

With ‘the Rugby championship of the world’ about to go on the line in the third test, this controversy soon blew over. (The test – and the series – was drawn.) But it highlighted an issue which was to become a source of great debate here and around the world. When in subsequent decades international pressure was brought to bear on South Africa over its racial policies, sporting contact was in the spotlight. Questioning of the ongoing contact between the Springboks and the All Blacks came to a head during the controversial 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand.

Image: 1921 Springbok tour programme

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