Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rugby – A New Zealand History - Ron Palenski, Auckland University Press

To casual browser this could be yet another Rugby Book.  To me, Alex Veysey wrote the best books on the subject, 'Ebony and Ivory' being the greatest.  After that.  Nothing was as good.  Sure, there's  plenty of photos and many, many anecdotes of the game the administrators and the supporters, the game - the game of All Blacks and first XVs, this is more.  It's actually something of a parallel social history of a country's obsession and love of the game.  Many, this year will write of how WWI shaped NZ, but I wonder how much they think of the game.  Surely that, more than wars and economics shapes us - in small ways, long term ways.  Of course, he's still a geek, responsible for many previous works on the subject, Palenski has striven for details ta wont appear in most books, or on the web - details from the hooker's mouth, so to speak. Light blue pages cleverly utilised to draw the readers’ attention to some of the defining episodes in the evolution and emergence of New Zealand as a dominant rugby nation. The rugby myths and legends that have abounded for decades are given a thorough airing.

From the origins of the game at the legendary Rugby School we're led right through to the professional era of the game, with many insights from the early years of the game. Perhaps an interesting precursor of what was to come from New Zealand teams in later years occurred during the tour by the British team of 1888, who found that their opponents in the match against Wellington were ‘outrageously rugged’. as I learned from my BA Hons History, early Rugby players were a social mix of all classes.  The game was a great leveller.  Rugby was a gentleman’s game in these early times. Of course, the book would be dull with out a few riveting tales of the first New Zealand rugby team to tour overseas, the New Zealand Natives, and the vital role they played in establishing New Zealand as serious competition in the minds of the English.

Many of the periodic controversies that have been associated with the game are examined in detail; the grossly unfair dismissal of Maurice Brownlie in a test match at Twickenham in 1928, the expulsion of Keith Murdoch from the All Black tour of Great Britain in 1972, Colin Meads being ordered off at Murrayfield in 1967, the disastrous Springbok tour of New Zealand in 1981, the very bad decision to send the Cavaliers to tour South Africa in 1986 and of course the enduring ‘did he or didn’t he?’ – Bob Deans scoring the try that would have given the All Blacks victory over Wales in 1905.

Early tours to NZ by overseas rugby teams and by our own sides touring overseas are addressed in the unique Palenski manner. They are never a statistical list of who won what, but a detailed account of some of the personal experiences of the team members, the personalities they encountered, the events they attended and the challenges they faced.

This book is an absolute ‘must’ for serious rugby fans but it's also a great read for social historians, too.   .

Other books by Palenski:

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