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Rare rugby programme found

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The Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union has unearthed a valuable rare piece of rugby memorabilia from the early days of New Zealand rugby.
A programme from the 1888 tour by the pioneering British rugby union team – known as the ‘English Footballers’ — was discovered in a clean-out of a storage area at the Wai-Bush union rooms by volunteers setting up a Wai-Bush Rugby Museum.
The framed programme from the “England versus Wairarapa” game in Masterton on September 17, 1888 had previously been displayed on the union room’s walls but had been stored during renovations several years ago.
Following its rediscovery Wai-Bush executive officer Tony Hargood contacted the New Zealand Rugby Museum in Palmerston North, where it will be sent and is likely to remain for posterity. Museum director Stephen Berg said the programme predates by five years the oldest one currently at the museum from the 1893 game between New Zealand and a Wellington XV before the national team headed to Australia, and it will probably be included in their “Rare XV”.
“We keep our rarest 15 items in a cabinet and tell a little story about them, so we’d be really thrilled to get it because of its age, and it’s also the first time that a team from the northern hemisphere had toured New Zealand, so we’d be able to tell that story as well,” Berg said.
“When I spoke to him [Hargood] he was afraid of taking it out of the frame just in case there’s any fragility to it.

Rare rugby programme
The 1888 programme found at the Wai-Bush union rooms.

“We’ve got people here to look at it and determine if it’s safe to do that or not, otherwise it will stay in the frame if that’s the safest thing to do.”
According to the Wai-Bush centenary book the match in Masterton “attracted a crowd of 2000 and some innovations were seen from the visitors. They heeled the ball back from set forward pieces; backs picked up the ball and ran — strange things indeed.”
Berg said not everybody played the same rules and interpreted them the same way in 1888, and in New Zealand, we were still learning.
“It was more like soccer when the ball went in, the forwards would boot the hell out of it trying to get it out so it would bounce and then they had this thing called a forward rush where the forwards would all be in a line dribbling the ball and because of the shape of a rugby ball – not like a soccer ball – it would bounce funny, that’s why there was good chance you would miss it and you practiced to have guys on your shoulder who would kick it if you missed it.”
At the time New Zealand teams believed that when the ball was put into a scrum if it was hooked backwards and the player behind touched the ball the player in front was immediately offside so when they put the ball into the scrum they thought you had to kick it through. In contrast, the British heeled the ball backwards believing the players were not offside. The pioneering tour of New Zealand and Australia was organised by three professional cricketers James Lillywhite, Alfred Shaw, and Arthur Shrewsbury, and was only given approval by the RFU provided there was no infringement of the amateur rules.
It took in 35 matches over nearly six months, with the British winning 27 games, drawing six, and losing two.
The visitors won the Wairarapa clash 5-1, scoring one try converted and one unconverted, to one unconverted try to the locals.
In addition, the team played 19 games of Victorian Rules [now Australian Rules], of which the team had no previous experience, winning six.

The cup won by Mataikona in 1905.
wairarapa bush rugby museum pieces

However, there were no international fixtures against a New Zealand team, because the NZ Rugby Union had not been formed. The tour was not without its tragedy when captain Robert Seddon drowned in a boating accident on the Hunter River in New South Wales.
“It was a pioneering tour to New Zealand by the British team, and the fact that these guys had come around the world to tour Australia and New Zealand was remarkable in itself, and then getting around they would have travelled by boat and stagecoach.”
“There’s not too much of what I know of that has survived from 1888, so the programme probably is a valuable piece in that regard,” Berg added.
Several other intriguing items of memorabilia have been discovered in the search for items for the Wai-Bush museum including several trophies dating back to the early 20th century.
One is a cup found in a North Shore garage, presented by P Hamill won by Mataikona in a game against the East Coast FC, and the Pownall Cup, presented in 1905 by CA Pownall for a game between the Masterton Red Star and Albion clubs.
The Wai-Bush museum will open for the 50th anniversary of the Wairarapa and Bush unions on September 2-3.

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