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Story of New Zealand rugby

For almost 140 years, the sport of rugby has been a national passion and a determining influence on New Zealand life and culture.

Rugby has helped shape modern Kiwis into a proud, sporting, innovative nation determined to make its mark on the world.

First NZ rugby game
Nelson, a provincial city on the northern tip of the South Island, became New Zealand's spiritual home of rugby in May 1870 when the first rugby game - under official rugby rules - was played on New Zealand soil.

By 1879, the game's popularity was spreading and the first rugby unions were formed in Canterbury and Wellington.

The New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) was established in 1892.

First New Zealand rugby team
The first national touring New Zealand rugby team - sporting blue jerseys with a golden fern - played and won a series of eight games in New South Wales in 1884.

In 1903, New Zealand beat Australia in their first official test match.

The original All Blacks - wearing the black jersey and silver fern - stormed through Britain and Europe in 1905.

Rugby players
Over the decades, New Zealand rugby players have earned a name as proud, hard-hitting and skillful sportsmen.

From George Nepia and the Brownlie brothers in the 1920s and '30s, to the brilliance of Colin Meads and Don Clarke in the '60s - and the continually evolving list of internationally renowned Kiwi names - the All Blacks have earned respect wherever they've played.

All Black captain Richie McCaw credits the grit of those early men of New Zealand rugby with instilling the pride and passion in today's generation of All Blacks.

"Traditionally we've been off-the-land sort of people, pretty strong rugged people … and when they got out in the field they were tough, hard men. That's why they had success in the earlier years and it's just carried on," McCaw says.

Rugby World Cup
International rugby competition moved to another level when New Zealand and Australia convinced the IRB (International Rugby Board) to bring the world's best rugby sides together in one tournament - the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

It was also a crowning moment in the history of the All Blacks who crushed Italy 70 - 6 in an historic opening match, and scored 43 tries on the way to the inaugural world title with a 29 - 9 final victory over France.

The Rugby World Cup helped launch the careers of All Black greats Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke, and established the legendary status of Sean Fitzpatrick, Wayne Shelford, John Kirwan and Grant Fox.

The 1991 World Cup, hosted by England, was less successful for an ageing All Black side that was ousted in the semi-finals by eventual champions Australia.

In 1995, in South Africa, the All Blacks - coached by Laurie Mains and with young stars like Andrew Merhtens, Josh Kronfeld, Jeff Wilson, and Jonah Lomu - were eager to win back the mantle of the world's top rugby nation. But, after a mystery illness on the eve of the final, they lost 15 - 12 to South Africa.

The All Blacks dominated their pool at the 1999 World Cup in the UK and France, but were upset by a fired-up French side at the semi finals. While Australia took the championship for the second time, New Zealand had to settle for fourth place.

After winning the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup, the All Blacks had high expectations for the 2003 RWC in Australia. They beat South Africa for the first time at World Cup in the quarter finals, but stumbled against Australia in the semis. The All Blacks returned home with a bronze medal, and the consolation of scoring the most points, including a record 52 tries.

Leading into the 2007 World Cup, the All Blacks had played 424 tests, and won 314 of them - a 74 percent success rate - but they eventually lost to France in the quarter finals played in Wales.

New Zealand is now preparing to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and the All Blacks will be ready to do battle again. Roll on 2011.

More information:

Four million Kiwis prepare to roar

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