Prolonged heavy rain in the days leading up to this fixture ensured that the match was played on a quagmire of a pitch and eventually petered out into a scoreless draw. Scoreless games were quite common in the early part of the 20th century but are almost unheard of now. The Newport forwards dominated the game but were unable to manage a score.
Much of the following is taken from an article in the match programme for Newport v New Zealand in 1989.
The French Rugby Federation sponsored the 1926-07 Maoris and the tour started in France with victories against Marseilles, Burgundy, Alps, Littoral, Lyons, Languedoc, Basque and the French Midlands, followed by a reverse in Paris by 11 pts to 9pts. After an "opener" in their first game in Britain against Somerset (cider to follow the wine!) the Maoris played their first game in Wales at Rodney Parade on 21st October 1926.
The Newport game almost did not go ahead as the Tour had started with a dispute as to which Laws the Maoris would play under in Wales and the Maoris' reserving the right to refuse to accept a Welsh referee. Jack Davis offers the opinion in 'One Hundred Years of Newport Rugby' that this "... was taken to be a sequel to the fact that in 1925 at Twickenham, Mr. A. E. Freethy, of Neath, had ordered off a New Zealander, Cyril Brownlie, in the course of the England v All Blacks match."
The Times of 4th October 1926 reporting under a headline THE MAORIS IN FRANCE, and a report on their defeat of Bayonne by 11points to 3, that:- "Somewhat of a sensation has been caused at Newport by the receipt of a letter from the Maori Rugby Team, in which the latter state that they object to playing under the new Welsh rules, and furrther refuse to play under a Welsh referee. The Newport Rugby Club immediately called a meeting, when the matter was discussed, and unless the Maoris withdraw their objections the games with Newport, Swansea, Cardiff and Llanelly this month will be cancelled."
The W.R.U. was making an effort to minimise the destructive play by wing-forwards. By changing the off-side Law at a scrummage, the players on the non-heeling team could not advance beyond the front row until the ball was out. The Maoris were not happy about this change but after a special meeting the W.R.U. decided the visitors would have to conform. In actual fact the Maori captain, Wattie Barclay admitted after the match, "I think it's a good rule. It certainly makes the game quicker".
Ironically, the International Board, which met the day after the match at Newport, issued a statement to the effect that matches between clubs of different Unions had to be played according to International Board regulations. The W.R.U. scrapped the idea and not until 1964-65 was a similar law introduced. Had they adopted the Welsh off-side law experiment the wing-forward would not have been quite the villain he was to become for so many years.
The Maoris had been in Newport since the previous Tuesday, sight-seeing and enjoying themselves. They had expressed their delight at the hospitality not only of the sporting section of the community but also the general body of townspeople. What the visitors did not find quite so acceptable was the intense cold which they encountered. For over a week there had been nights of severe frosts and icy winds. On the morning of the match the sky was grey and threatening and about noon icy rain began to fall. In spite of the weather the rugby enthusiasts poured into Rodney Parade and there were early indications that there would be a crowd such as Newport had not seen since the visit of the 1924 All Blacks.
Half-an-hour before the kick-off the gates to the enclosure were closed, and the spectators behind the posts and on the uncovered popular side must have been soaked. However, spirited playing by the Pontypool Town and District Band helped keep them buoyant because there was a warm welcome for the teams, especially the Maoris who performed their war-dance to loud cheering.
When the game started it soon became apparent that the wet ball and slippery conditions would pose problems for both sides. The Newport team was known to have a strong pack led by Irish international Dr. W.J. Roche. Tom Jones, Dai Jones, Harry Phillips, Bill Friend, Tom Roberts, Jim Collins, Ron Herrera and the fiery Irishman revelled in the conditions and Newport completely dominated the first half. Eddie Dowdall had the game of his life behind the driving pack, but for all the pressure there was nothing to show on the score-board.
The second half followed a similar pattern with long periods of pressure from the Black and Ambers and occasional flashes of brilliance from the Maori wings, Phillips and Falwasser. The star however was Taitahu Peina Kingi, the tough little scrum-half, whose fearless tackling of the biggest Newport forwards saved certain tries. A few penalty kicks went astray and a succession of dropped passes in the closing minutes proved crucial. Much to the crowd's disappointment the game ended in a pointless draw.
As it is sometimes said, "Rugby was the winner", and after dining together at the Queens Hotel, the players tripped the light fantastic at the Pavilion Ballroom, opposite St. Woolos Hospital, from whence the revellers were joined by nurses to make a fitting end to a splendid day!
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The following lengthy report appeared in The Times on 22nd October 1926:-
"THE MAORIS AT NEWPORT"
"The visit of the Maoris to Newport yesterday awakened many memories of what may be called the ..... days of Rugby football in South Wales. Those were the days when the mountainous Yorkshire forward and others of his like still overplayed the Welshmen, who mostly looked to the outstanding genius of Arthur Gould and one or two other backs to pull their international encounters out of the fire. It was so, too, when the Maoris of 1888 and 1889 - the first of all the famous touring sides - made their appearance on Welsh soil. Newport in those times had a fine team that contained player like G. Thomas, J. E. Webb, C. J. Thomas, and T. Downe among the backs, and of Hanner, T. Graham, and T. Harding among the forwards, but on the day on which the Maoris had to be met there was not the inspiring presence of Arthur Gould. People can still be found who insist that it was his absence that cost Newport the match. Actually it was the great power and dribbling capacity of the Maori forwards that enabled their side to win by three tries to none. there is no means of comparing the Maoris of 1888 with those of yesterday, but the probability is that Wales have advanced in forward play more than their Maori opponents have done, and so the tremendous struggle that occurred on the Newport ground - a struggle that ended in a pointless draw - was only to be expected."
"The conditions at Newport were the exact reverse of what they were at Weston-super-Mare last Saturday, when in fast, dry conditions the Maori pack mostly beat the Somerset men for the ball, and a brilliant, if erratic, band of runners behind the scrummage did the rest. Yesterday the Maori pack occasionally rushed their opponents off their feet, but in the main they failed to get the ball, with the inevitable result that it was the Newport backs who were given most of the chances to develop passing movements. In addition, the Maori backs when they did get the icy cold, slippery ball, could not handle it so accurately as did the Welshmen. Once or twice that wonderful cork-screw runner A. Falwasser managed to field a loose kick and to zigzag his way for some 30 or 40 yards through the defence, but the slippery ground always accomplished what the tacklers showed signs of failing to do without assistance from the conditions. H. Phillips, the Maoris' other splendid wing three-quarter back, had even fewer opportunities. R. J. Bill was the best of the midfield players, but this time frozen fingers defeated the whole Maori team when the ball began to pass from hand to hand."
"A drawn match, whether with or without a score, was not an unfair result. The Maoris obviously suffered most from the conditions, for their immense advantage in speed was largely thrown away in a forward battle and heavy going. Newport, for their part, were fairly accurate, but slow, in their passing movements, but they were appreciably the more skilful side at forward. As for the repeated penalty kicks given against both sides, they were mostly for offside play, and had it been a dry day there might have been an unusual element of excitement in the game. The new Welsh rule was in operation, but with a "rover" - as the Maoris call Gemmell - alongside, and sometimes on the wrong side of him, Dowdall, the Newport scrummage half-back, was not exactly encouraged to give the alien observer a demonstration of the worth of the new rules. To his credit he did his best, and just occasionally gave one a glimpse of the kind of situation that would arise if spoiling half-backs and winging forwards were to be legislated out of the game."
"Dowdall, as a matter of fact, not only played onside in difficult conditions, but also managed to be the best centre three-quarter back on the field. How he did this the writer cannot hope to explain. V. M. Griffiths, his partner, seems for the moment to have lost his grasp of the game. Those of the others were too slow for modern Rugby. The most hopeful thing about the Newport back play, apart from Dowdall's cleverness in opening up the game, was the form shown at centre by N. Bailey, who has jumped straight into the Newport fifteen from a local club. Everson, too, played the best game one remembers seeing him play at full back. Pelham, the Maori back, vastly improved upon his Weston form. The most notable incidents in the first half were provided by Falwasser, who emphasizes once more how dangerous it is to feed him with the kick up field. Newport, however, were getting the ball most of the time. Although all but two of their passing movements lacked the penetrative quality, those two were really clever ones and went near to producing a score. In one case it was Bailey who made the opening; in the other it was Dowdall, who was doing two or three men's work. For the rest it was kick and rush and penalty kicks that came to nothing."
"In the second half the Maori forwards surprised everybody by the way in which they held, and sometimes outrushed, the Newport eight for some time. But they, like their backs, could not handle a cold slippery ball, and eventually received an object-lesson in close dribbling by the Newport pack. Perhaps, at the critical moment, the Newport men might have hazarded a long kick past the fullback, but their effort was a fine one for all that. Kick and rush it remained to the end, and some of the rushing and mauling became rather over-vigorous. The nearest thing o a decisive event was a long drop at goal by Phillips, who very nearly reminded the Newport players and spectators of that disastrous failure to find touch against the All Blacks two years ago."
"The sides were:-"
"NEWPORT.- W. Everson, back; G. Andrews, N. Bailey, A. Stock, and H. Davies, three-quarter-backs; V. N. Griffiths and E. G. Dowdall, half-backs; Dr. Roche, T. Jones, D. Jones, H. Phillips, J. Collins, W. Friend, T.Roberts, and R. Herrera, forwards."
"MAORIS.- D. Pelham, back; A. Falwasser, P. Potaka, and H. Phillips, three-quarter-backs; R. J. Bell, and W. Barclay, five-eighths; S. Gemmell, rover; H. Kingi, half-back; O. S. Olsen, J. Stewart, P. Haupapa, W. Rika, the Rev. P. Matene, T. Dennis, and A. Crawford, forwards."