The New Zealand Native Football Representatives' tour of Britain is a lesser known tour. The first New Zealand representative rugby team to tour beyond Australia, they played their first game in Britain on 3rd October 1888, but the title of 'The Originals' was somehow bestowed on the second New Zealand rugby team to tour Britain, that of 1905-06. But even though it was soon forgotten, the Natives' tour was to have a lasting significance for New Zealand rugby and society.
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 born in New Zealand. However two of the Pakeha were 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 23rd June 1888. Before they left New Zealand they were condemned as a 'poor team' who wouldn't beat the top local club sides. But after they slipped quietly back into the country a year later, their play was praised as a 'fine exhibition of what several months of combination and practice will do'.
By the time the Natives dispersed at Auckland in August 1889, they had played a staggering 107 rugby matches in New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain, winning 78 of them - plus eight Australian Rules and two soccer fixtures! For much of that time no more than 20 of the touring party were fit, forcing those that remained into a playing schedule that no modern team would contemplate.
The 1888-89 tourists' team cap was notable for the first use of the silver fern in New Zealand rugby. A symbol that would come to be used on most New Zealand sporting uniforms.
A match programme article for Newport v New Zealand in 1989 reported much of the following on the 1888 game. The Maoris returned home with the record in Great Britain of:-
Played 74, Won 49, Drawn 5, Lost 20, Points for 394, Points against 188.
Having started on June 23rd 1888 the tour lasted until August 24th 1889 - a year and two months! In all the party played 107 matches, won 78, drew 6 and lost 23. In New Zealand, where the tour started, the Maoris won 14 out of the 17 games played and all 16 were won in Australia. The tourists completed their 74 games in the U.K. in less than six months and it must have been the most exhausting programme any group of players had undertaken. On occasions games were played on three successive days yet the party consisted of only 26 men. Not surprisingly, on account of illness and injury, backs often found themselves in the pack and forwards were pressed into service in the back division. One of the Maoris, Davey Gage, played in 68 of the 74 games played in Britain.
The tourists were not all Maori - four were "white" and a number of others only part-Maori. Joe Warbrick, the captain, had three brothers with him - one, William, was to become the star of the tour. Others to impress were the "white players" - Pat Keogh and W. "Mother" Elliot at half-back, G.A. Williams an outstanding forward, and E.M. McCausland, a strong-running three-quarter who was aiso a fine goal-kicker. All four were to play at Newport, in the first major Southern Hemisphere side to take on The Usksiders, as was T.R. Ellison an outstanding Maori forward, who later in his career switched to half-back.
The team of '88 beat Ireland 13pts to 4pts in Dublin, but lost to England 7pts to nil at Blackheath. Most of the matches took place in the industrial north where the attendances were larger than the rest of the U.K. The tour of Wales took in Llanelli, Swansea, Newport, Cardiff and the National XV at Swansea. The games against Llanelli, Cardiff and Wales ended in defeat, but wins against Swansea and Newport redressed the balance.
The match at Newport on Wednesday, 26th December was reported in "The South Wales Times and Star of Gwent" on Friday, 28th December, 1888.
As to the match - eight thousand spectators were present and the gate realised £316. Of this amount £209 went to the visitors after payment of match expenses. The Newport team had suffered a hammer blow when Arthur Gould had to withdraw at the last moment. Gould was the most prolific points scorer ever to wear a Newport jersey and the recipient of 27 caps. The match was played in difficult conditions as it had rained heavily for a week, but there was plenty of action to thrill the spectators. After holding the Maoris up to half-time (the visitors "led" by 5 minors), a plucky Newport team conceded three tries scored by Pat Keogh, Wi Karauria and Tom Ellison. In those early days a try counted for one point and a goal three points, so the score is recorded as Maoris 3pts Newport nil.
NEWPORT- C. Mqggridge; G. Slade, J.E. Webb, G. Thomas, W. Fothergill; C.J. Thomas, T. Downe; T. Harding (Capt), J. Hannen, T. Edwards; H.T. Day, E. Jones; T.C. Graham, W. Golightly, T.H. Griffiths.
MAORIS- D. Gage; H. Wynyard, W. Wynyard, E. MCausland; F. Warbrick, W. Elliott, P. Keogh; T. Ellison, W. Karauria, G. Wynyard, A. Webster, H. Lee, G. Williams, D. Stewart, A. Warbrick.
In noting the Maoris' exhausting schedule it should be noted that before the Maoris game on 26th December, Newport played Gloucester on 22nd December, and after the Boxing Day game took on Moseley on 27th December, London Welsh on 29th December, Oldham on 1st January and Llanelli on 5th January!