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If you’re in New Zealand for any length of time, you may notice the nation has a slight obsession with the game of rugby and its national team!
Long a part of New Zealand culture, the internationally famous black jersey of New Zealand’s national team, the All Blacks (or as they are often known colloquially, the ‘ABs’), was formally chosen as New Zealand’s national playing strip in 1893, and was worn in the following year by the first NZRU-sanctioned national team to visit Australia.
New Zealand’s first test match was played across the Tasman in Sydney, against Australia, in 1903, and in 1904 its first test match on home soil was played against Great Britain – the All Blacks won 9 – 3. By the time they toured the United Kingdom, France and North America in 1905 and 1906, the All Blacks legend was immortalised. The team played 35 matches, losing just one. Now known as ‘The Originals’, this team contributed hugely to New Zealand’s cultural identity, and created a considerable sense of national pride. Since those days, the All Blacks have played in more than 500 test matches and have a success rate of more than 75%, which is among the ‘winningest’ records of any national sports team.
The inaugural Rugby World Cup was held in 1987, in New Zealand and Australia, and was won by the All Blacks. They then endured a long – and for many Kiwi rugby fans, frustrating! – dry spell in the tournament until winning again in 2011 (when the tournament was hold solely in New Zealand), beating France 8-7 in a very tense Eden Park final. The team then defended its title in Britain in 2015 and will try to do the same again in 2019 in Japan.
There are several ways to tap into the New Zealand rugby experience: the Super Rugby series runs from February to late June, with matches in main centres; the national provincial competition, the Mitre 10 Cup (breeding ground for the national team), runs from August to October, making it easy to catch a high-level game at most major cities around New Zealand (see the national schedule at mitre10cup.co.nz); or visit the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North (pictured is one of the museum's pieces; the jersey of Jock Richardson, captain of the All Blacks in 1924 and 1925). If there’s a game on and you’re not able to get to it, head down to the local pub at game time and you’ll find a keen crowd happy for company.