The birthplace of New Zealand rugby - Nelson in the South Island - turned the clock back 141 years today (20.9.2011) with an authentic re-enactment of the first game, in front of a capacity Rugby World Cup supporting crowd.
The town, more often famous as the sunniest place in New Zealand and the arts and crafts capital of the country, is primed for three Rugby World Cup games - the first to kick off between Italy and Russia tomorrow night.
But first Nelson will celebrate its historic identity as the birthplace of New Zealand rugby by re-enacting the first game held on the 14th May 1870.
The match will be played between original rivals Nelson College and Nelson Rugby Club who faced off all those years ago to see Nelson Rugby Club taking the honours 2-0.
Victorian style The two teams sported recreations of the original uniform and locals supported the players by wearing Victorian dress and celebrating with a penny farthing cycle race, traditional pyramid formations and brass band performances.
The Nelson College team was made up of the school’s first XV and supported by famous old boys such as ex-All Blacks John Loveday and Wyatt Crockett, while the Nelson Rugby Club team was stacked with local Tasman Makos and Canterbury Crusaders heroes, including Tom Marshall and Andrew Goodman.
Match ups included several family face-offs, with brothers playing against brothers, fathers against sons, plus the great great nephew of Charles Monro - the father of New Zealand rugby - took the field for Nelson College, playing the same game his famous relative first introduced in 1870.
1862 rules The re-enacted game followed the 1862 rules, with one important omission - hacking, which involves kicking an opposition player in the shins until they release the ball.
"We decided that hacking was a bit cruel, plus we want to be able to walk to the pub after the match," says organiser and Nelson Rugby Club player Jack McNabb, who has grown a large moustache in order to look more like the men of the day.
The 1862 rules, which vary vastly from the modern game, saw 18 players take the field from each team, vying to place the ball across the line to give them the opportunity to kick for goal and score 1 point.
‘Try’ originates from the early version of rugby where getting the ball across the line doesn’t award points but merely gives the team a ‘try’ at kicking for goal.
Mass haka The game played at the Botanics Reserve in Nelson was expected to attract a lot of international interest as well as major local support.
The more than 10,000 spectators were treated to a mass haka by 1500 Nelson College students before the game.
The powerful haka, thought to be one of the largest ever performed, was led by Nelson College’s deputy Māori head boy Te Wera Mihaere, whose brother led the haka that welcomed the world to New Zealand in the official Rugby World Cup 2011 opening ceremony.
Nelson College is the oldest state secondary school in New Zealand and has a long legacy of firsts, as well as a vast number of famous old boys including scientist Sir Ernest Rutherford, rugby league star Simon Mannering, six Victorian Cross recipients, 19 former All Blacks - as well as the legendary Mr Rugby, Charles Monro.