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20 Sep 2011

“Town Team” triumphs again at the Re-enactment of the First Game of Rugby in New Zealand

An estimated six thousand spectators turned out today to celebrate Nelson’s unique position as the Birthplace of Rugby in New Zealand in a re-enactment of the first game which took place in Nelson on 14 May 1870. Teams from Nelson College and Nelson Rugby Club - also known as “The Town” team - faced off once 141 years after the first game, and once again Nelson Rugby Club were the winners on the day, winning three goals to one.

The game itself bore little resemblance to rugby as we know it today, with teams of 18 players per side wearing replica uniforms: knickerbockers, sashes and jerseys with a lace up front.  Using rules from 1862, the players grappled with a large, melon-shaped ball made of leather, complete with laces.  With less technical rules to follow, scrummages formed into enormous rolling mauls as additional players join in, and kicking formed a prominent part of the game as goal after goal was scored by kicking the ball over goal posts made of manuka.

Spectators, many of whom came dressed in period costume, enjoyed other Victorian touches including Penny Farthing races, Morris Dancers, stilt-walkers and music from a band rotunda. Surprises on the day included a Victorian streaker in long johns who momentarily disrupted play, who was subsequently arrested and put in the stocks.

Rugby was introduced to Nelson College and Nelson Rugby Club by Charles Monro, the son of a Nelson settler, who had played rugby during his schooling in England. Today’s game took place in the same location at the Botanics Reserve in Nelson, and included Monro’s great great great nephew, Henry David Winter, who played in the Nelson College Team.

The Re-enactment of the First Game of Rugby was organised by Nelson City Council as the flagship event of the Game On Festival, a two month long festival featuring over 30 different events.