Pompallier tried hard with Roman Catholicism. Marsden had a go with Anglicanism. Cargill and Burns did their level best with Presbyterianism. Missionaries of all stamps have come and gone throughout our history and most have left their mark. But there is only one true religion round here, mate, and that’s rugby union.
Our national Road-to-Damascus experience took place in 1905, when a touring party of footballers from this uttermost corner of the empire arrived in the Old Country and proceeded to cut a swathe through England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, taking time at the end of the British leg of the tour to evangelise France and North America with the union gospel too.
As they marched triumphantly from match to match, winning everything (but one game, of which we were robbed by a dodgy referee) and trampling the pride of British manhood underfoot, New Zealanders began sitting up and taking notice.
Certainly, the politicians noticed, and the Premier, Richard Seddon, became the first in a long line of New Zealand leaders to nail their political colours to the mast of the national rugby team.
That team was subsequently labelled ‘the Originals’, because not only were they the first truly representative national footy side to tour England, they were also the first to be called ‘the All Blacks’, on account of their black uniform.
You can read all about the exploits of the Originals, of all the teams that came afterwards, and of the infancy of the Code in this country – everything you ever wanted to know about footy, from the time of the first game played in Nelson in 1870 to the present – at the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North.
This part of the Te Manawa Museums complex contains a wealth of riches for the footy fanatic and the merely curious alike.
The emergence of New Zealand as the world’s major rugby power is set out in a fascinating collection of memorabilia, photos and artefacts, arranged in 30 displays by topic. There’s also a library and archive, where practically everything ever published on the subject reposes, and where an impressive collection of primary records – players’ tour diaries, newspaper cuttings and scrapbooks – makes the museum a mecca for sportswriters and researchers.
For anyone with a healthy respect for the oval ball, or a burning desire to know where that respect comes from, this is the place for you.