New Zealand Rugby Union celebrates 120 years

Getty Images     17 Apr 2012     Getty Images

The idea of a New Zealand Union had been considered since 1879, but by 1891 the necessity and value of a central body had become apparent as rugby became more popular and fixtures more

Ernest Hoben, Secretary of the Hawke’s Bay Union spent much of 1891 on the road and the sea, putting the idea of the New Zealand Rugby Union before assorted Provincial Unions. A meeting was then convened on 7 November 1891 to consider the question of forming a national Union. A draft Constitution was agreed and it was decided to hold a meeting at the start of the following season to finally decide the matter.

On Saturday 16 April 1892, at the Club Hotel in Wellington, the new central union came into being.

Mr Hoben moved ‘that in the opinion of this meeting, it is desirable that a New Zealand Rugby Union should be formed’. Representatives from Wellington, Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Otago, Canterbury, Manawatu, Wairarapa and Taranaki attended while representatives from the Nelson, Marlborough, Wanganui and South Canterbury Unions did not attend but approved the proposal. The Canterbury, Otago and Southland Unions dissented from joining the new Union and it was noted in the Minutes of the meeting that the others decided to proceed “with them if they could, but without them if they must”.

An Honorary Secretary and Honorary Treasurer as well as a three-member Appeal Committee were elected and an invitation would be sent to the newly appointed Governor of New Zealand, Lord Glasgow, to become President. The Union would be based in Wellington “an easily approachable centre through which people from all parts of the Colony were pouring daily” but it was agreed that it should not consist solely of Wellington men or confine meetings to Wellington only.

The Union was affiliated to the English Union which set the rules of the game at the time.

The objectives of the new body were to foster and control Rugby Football throughout the Colony, support the arrangement of Inter-Provincial fixtures by the Provincial Unions, punish misconduct generally and in an unbiased manner, assume sole control of matters pertaining to foreign teams coming to the Colony or New Zealand teams leaving it and give guidance on fixtures, scoring values and interpretation of Laws of the Game.

Once the motion bringing the new Union into being had passed, the Canterbury and Otago delegates who had dissented withdrew and the remaining delegates resolved themselves into the first meeting of the new Union and adopted a Constitution based on Hoben’s 1891 draft.

A year later, on April 27 1893 the first AGM was held, notable (amongst other decisions) for the resolution “that the New Zealand Representative colours should be Black Jersey with Silver Fernleaf, Black Cap with Silver Monogram, White Knickerbockers and Black Stockings”.

The NZRU’s strongest advocate and first secretary, Ernest Hoben, gave many years’ service to rugby. Prior to serving with the Hawke’s Bay Union, he had been involved in establishing rugby in the Bay of Plenty. In recognition of Hoben’s contribution, the largest meeting room at the NZRU’s offices in Wellington has been named for him and displays all 26 provincial jerseys alongside photos of past All Blacks teams and the names of every All Black in New Zealand rugby history.