The early years
The New Zealand All Blacks have to be the finest and most constantly good international rugby side.
The first New Zealand touring side to travel abroad went to New South Wales in 1884 and won all 8 games, which included three games with a New South Wales Representative side. 167 points were scored to 17.
The first New Zealand touring side under the auspices of the New Zealand RFU, ales & Queensland, Australia in 1893. However, this side was still not fully representative of the greater New Zealand since three unions were not included in the selection i.e. Otago, Canterbury & Southland (they joined the NZ union in 1895). Despite this, the tourists won 9 out of 10 games (168 points to 44).
The first New Zealand representative rugby team to tour beyond Australia were called “The Natives”, they played their first game in Britain on 3 October 1888. The Natives had originally been called New Zealand Maori. After five Pakeha were selected to strengthen the touring party it was renamed by its promoter on the basis that all 26 team members were New Zealand born. In fact two had in fact been born overseas. Most of the team assembled at a training camp near Napier in May 1888, and they played their first match against Hawke’s Bay on 23 June.
After playing nine matches in New Zealand and two in Melbourne in the southern winter of 1888 (with only two losses), the Natives set off for Britain by steamer. Their efforts to retain their fitness during the six-week voyage by shovelling coal and exercising on deck were thwarted by the complaints of other passengers, but they did take part in the first recorded rugby match in Egypt en route.
They disembarked at Tilbury on 27 September. Six days later, wearing black uniforms and after performing a haka, a team which had ’caused much curiosity’ efficiently defeated a scratch Surrey fifteen 4-1.
A further touring side visited Queensland, Australia in 1897 but neither side played a team representing Australia.
The first international test match was played on August 15, 1903 when a New Zealand touring side met Australia on the Sydney Cricket ground. New Zealand won 22 points to 3.
The second international test was a home match the following year when they defeated Britain at Athletic Park, Wellington, by 9-3. The British team were touring Australia and despite them being unbeaten in Australia, they lost two and drew one in New Zealand. They also lost to an unofficial Maori XV at Rotorua.
The New Zealand test side was not always called the All Blacks, (in the early days they were called Maorilanders, the New Zealanders or even the Colonials), they were given that name during their famous 1905 tour to the British Isles, France and Canada.
The 1884 side mentioned above had for its uniform a dark blue jersey with a gold fernleaf over the left breast, dark knickerbockers, and stockings. It was certainly not “All Black”.
After the formation of the New Zealand Rugby Union in 1892, it was resolved that the New Zealand representative colours should be “…Black Jersey with Silver Fernleaf, Black Cap with Silver Monogram, White Knickerbockers and Black Stockings…” on the motion of Mr WEllison and seconded by Mr King. This was the standard uniform for some years, though photographs of the 1894 and 1896 teams show that white shorts, and not knickerbockers, were worn. There is no photograph of the 1897 team in uniform–in the official photograph they are shown wearing long trousers–but in the New Zealand Graphic of 14 August 1897 there is a cartoon of a New Zealand footballer wearing a black jersey and white shorts.
For the 1905 tour the shorts were changed to black.
The “Express & Echo in Devon appears to be the first to use the term All-blacks when it recorded the day the 1905 touring side beat Devon 55-4 in their first game, “The All Blacks, as they are styled by reason of their sable and unrelieved costume, were under the guideance of their captain (Mr Gallaher), and their fine physique favorably impressed the spectators”.
By 11 October the Daily Mail by Buttery, had also picked this up and reference “All Black” play and its complement, “All Black Cameraderie”. From then on the new name gradually won acceptance, so much so that by early November, following the match with Surrey (1 November), the Daily Mail made direct mention of the All Black team “that everybody is talking about”.
It is also interesting to note that on 15 November 1905 the term “Blacks” had even appeared in the pages of Punch which printed a number of stanzas dealing with the shortcomings of Seddon, the last running as follows:
Can it be your head is turned
By your team of Rugby “Blacks”?
Has the glory they have earned
Set you trotting in their tracks?
Well, it’s not mere weight and gristle,
You must also play the game,
Or the referee may whistle
And you’ll have yourself to blame
If you get a free kick where you don’t expect the same.
Although the new name “caught on” so quickly in Britain, its acceptance in New Zealand was much slower. Seddon, for instance, with that political opportunism which both irritated and amused his opponents, followed up each victory with congratulatory cablegrams addressed to “the colony’s football team” (mid-October) or “the New Zealand football team” (4 December). The newspapers were equally tardy in adopting the term but by 21 November the New Zealand Herald referred to the “Triumphal March of the Blacks”. A few weeks later (6 December) it headed a column “ ‘All Black’ Gossip”; editorially, however, it always used the more formal term, “New Zealand Footballers”. Thus on 5 March 1906, the day of the team’s arrival at Auckland, the Herald editorially acclaimed the “New Zealand Footballers”, but on the following day it headed its report of the official function of welcome with a bold double-column caption “Return of the All Blacks”. Meanwhile, throughout the country special shop window displays and feature advertisements “to mark the return of the All Blacks” suddenly appeared. The “All Blacks” had indeed arrived.