Māori Rugby History

Maori Rugby History

Māori rugby has a wonderful heritage – back to Tom Ellison, arguably the greatest thinker in the history of New Zealand rugby.

Thomas_EllisonA member of the 1888 Native Team which toured New Zealand, Australia and Britain, Ellison also introduced the haka to rugby, came up with the prototype of the All Blacks jersey, was a key thinker behind the whole style of New Zealand rugby, and developed the 2-3-2 scrum.

In 1934 the New Zealand Māori Rugby League Board of Control was formed to administer Māori Rugby League ( under the auspices of the NZRFL). From this Board the New Zealand Māori Rugby League was established. Later, the name Aotearoa Māori Rugby League was adopted. In 1992 the body was registered as an Incorporated Society. The Incorporated Society provides the masthead for provincial, waka, and tribal rugby league organisations, duly constituted as affiliate bodies of the Aotearoa Māori Rugby League.

Haka Origin

According to Māori ethos, Tama-nui-to-ra, the Sun God, had two wives, Hine-raumati, the Summer maid, and Hine takurua, the Winter maid. The child born to him and Hine-raumati was Tane-rore, who is credited with the origin of the dance. Tane-rore is the trembling of the air as seen on the hot days of summer, and represented by the quivering of the hands in the dance.

Haka is the generic name for all Māori dance. Today, haka is defined as that part of the Māori dance repertoire where the men are to the fore with the women lending vocal support in the rear. Most haka seen today are haka taparahi, haka without weapons. More than any aspect of Māori culture, this complex dance is an expression of the passion, vigour and identity of the race.

Haka is not merely a past time of the Māori but was also a custom of high social importance in the welcoming and entertainment of visitors. Tribal reputation rose and fell on their ability to perform the haka (Hamana Mahuika). Haka reflected the concerns and issues of the time, of defiance and protest, of factual occurrences and events at any given time.

The haka adds a unique component, derived from the indigenous Māori of New Zealand, and which aligns with the wider Polynesian cultures of the Pacific.

Many sports teams and individuals travelling from New Zealand overseas tend to have the haka “Ka mate” as part of their programme. The sports team that has given the haka the greatest exposure overseas has been the All Blacks, who perform it before their matches. It has become a distinctive feature of the New Zealand All Blacks.

First Rugby Game

The first game of rugby played in New Zealand took place before the New Zealand Rugby Football Union was formed.

Credit for the introduction of rugby to New Zealand goes to Charles John Monro, son of Sir David Monro, Speaker in the House of Representatives from 1860 to 1870. Charles Monro, who was born at Waimea East, was sent to Christ’s College, Finchley in England to complete his education and while there he learned the rugby game. On his return to Nelson he suggested that the local football club try out the rugby rules.

The game must have appealed to the club members for they decided to adopt it. A visit to Wellington by Monro later in 1870 resulted in a game being arranged between Nelson and Wellington. This match was played at Petone on 12 September and was won by Nelson by two goals to one.

In 1871 the game became organised in Wellington and it had spread to Wanganui by the following year. Auckland adopted rugby in 1873 while Hamilton followed suit in 1874. By 1875 the game had become established all over the colony and a team representing Auckland clubs undertook a two-week southern tour. Matches were played (and lost) against teams from Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Nelson and Taranaki.

(Source: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby , 1981)

Enrol Now!

Enrol Now!

Your future rugby career starts here.

  Register Now!

Photo Gallery


“My experience at the New Zealand Sports Academy was amazing. Not only in terms of rugby, but learning, living, and being enveloped in the New Zealand way of life. Coming from America and living in a rugby culture, you realize what rugby is all about. The fast pace New Zealand style of rugby is unique. Anyone who is interested in playing rugby in a different country should not consider any other option; the New Zealand Sports Academy is the place to go.”

Timothy Lew, USA