The visit of a New Zealand team in 1905 was the first major international tour since the New Zealand Natives toured in 1888/89. A Canadian side had toured the British Isles in 1902/03, although they did not play any of the National sides, however, they did venture to Yorkshire where they beat Harrogate 5-0 “on a field which was mud to the ankles” according to the local press.
Coming just ten years after the schism, the All Blacks tour is credited with helping to revive interest in the Rugby Union game in the North of England and the game played on the 13th December 1905 brought the largest attendance at a rugby union game in Yorkshire since the split with 23,683 people squashed into Headingley.
The use of Headingley, home of the Leeds Northern Union club was controversial. The popularity of the All Blacks ensured that Yorkshire needed a large stadium to hold the crowds that were expected to watch the tourists. None of the available rugby union grounds in the county was deemed suitable and the County committee accepted the offer of the directors of the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Company Ltd, the owners of Headingley, one of the biggest grounds in the county.
According to the regulations of the Rugby Union the match could not be played at the ground if the Leeds club or members derived any financial benefit and therefore the ground had to be closed to their members, who had to pay for admission to the match along with the rest of the general public. This cleared the way for the Yorkshire RFU to accept the offer. Hull F.C (Northern Union), had also offered their ground free of charge, whilst Wakefield Trinity and Leeds City football club [the forerunners of Leeds United with Elland Road] had also made their grounds available “on easy terms.”
The terms on which Yorkshire had arranged the game with New Zealand were £50 for a Saturday fixture, £35 for “an off-day match” and £17-10 should the game not be played. The general admission fee to the ground was sixpence, and an extra shilling was charged for admittance to the uncovered stand. The gate was £1150; New Zealand taking 70% of the profits. Later the Yorkshire committee debated what to do with their share, suggesting it was split amongst all the member clubs of the YRFU in some way.
The Yorkshire team: J.S Auty (Headingley); R.C Dobson (Headingley), A.S Pickering (Harrogate), W. Lynch (Castleford). T. Orton (Harrogate); B. Oughtred (Hull and East Riding) [Captain], B. Dalton (Castleford), B. Moss-Blundell (Hull and East Riding); J. Green (Skipton), R Duckett (Skipton), J. Dobson (Wakefield Balne Lane), W. Knox (Castleford), W.A. Smith (Harrogate), W.H.H Hutchinson (Hull and East Riding) and T. Chapman (Harrogate0.
Yorkshire had selected their strongest available fifteen, although many critics suggested they were weak. One prominent player told ‘Flaneur’ of the Leeds Mercury that the second team of his club could beat the county side easily; ‘Flaneur’ continuing, “another remarked that any of half a dozen sides in the Bradford and District League would be successful against the pick of the Yorkshire Rugby Union, and I have heard so many similar expressions of opinion that I quite realise the contemptuous feeling that is felt for the ability of the team that is called upon …to represent Yorkshire against perhaps the finest team of footballers who have ever played together.”
The side was captained by England International Bernard Oughtred and included future England Internationals Jim Green, who later captain his country, and Arthur Pickering, whilst Billy Lynch turned professional and represented England in the Northern Union game. Former England International Barron Kilner was to run the touchline. Three of the Yorkshire side were to win Military Crosses during the First World War, R.C Dobson, W.H.H Hutchinson and R. Duckett. All three survived the conflict.
New Zealand fielded eight of the side that beat England, resting players in readiness for the test against Wales. Their manager George Dixon was originally from Huddersfield and had been away from the county of his birth for 26 years. He received hospitality in his home town. In his diary, he later wrote, “Found I had grown away from the old place. Everything struck me as smaller and less imposing than my recollections.” He spoke at a meeting of his old club and explained the success of the New Zealanders was down to forwards, of whom every man was selected for a particular position, and kept that position during the progress of a game.
The Yorkshire RFU were determined to make an event of the day. A significant number of ‘rugby notability’ were invited, including those that had made their name before the schism including Internationals Fred Bonsor, Rawson and Herbert Robertshaw and Charles Fernandes. The Directors of the Athletic Club, local clergymen, Mayors and M.Ps, were also invited, together with Lord Hawke, the doyen of Yorkshire Cricket.
At 10.45 am the players met at the Metropole Hotel in the centre of Leeds for a “council of war”, followed at Noon by lunch. At 12.30 the committee and stewards met at the ground, in readiness for the gates opening at 1 pm.
The Leeds Mercury noted if you wanted to see a “human struggle” you did not need to venture out of City Square, where “Excursion and ordinary trains poured their freights into the square [Special trains also ran from Lancashire and Lincolnshire, as well as all parts of the Broadacres] and then the swarming of [tram] cars began. At the imminent risk of injury, portly passengers fought like demons to get aboard, car, after car, as it returned empty, being filled before one had time to think of finding a seat. “
The players ‘char-a-banc’ left for the ground at 1.45, hopefully not being too much caught up in the traffic, for the game commenced at 2.30 pm.
After the match, the teams, committee and dignitaries, numbering 120, returned to the Metropole for tea at 5.30 pm. In his diary, Nicholson explained it was a “pleasant couple of hours, very fine singing and excellent speeches…altogether were treated in the kindliest possible fashion in Leeds.”
The tourists were unbeaten before meeting Yorkshire; they had beaten England 15-0 at the start of the month and ‘Amateur’ wrote to the Leeds Mercury with advice for the Yorkshire side. “The play of the Englishmen, as a whole, was so disgusting that I do not ask for space for further comment.” He suggested that Yorkshire played the same formation as the New Zealanders, who played with a ‘roving’ wing-forward, who over the years caused many a disagreement about the legitimacy of the role, explaining Yorkshire “instead of solely attempting to spoil the play of their opponents, play to win. Also, instead of tackling low, adopt the smothering system, and thus prevent the tackled one from parting with the ball. In conclusion, I am sure that I could pick a team, if not two, from the Northern Union which would beat the New Zealanders…”
The overwhelming expectation before the game was of a New Zealand victory; Yorkshire rugby was still recovering from the schism of ten years earlier – the Leeds Mercury reflected that it was the “Northern Unionists [Rugby League], who claim to have all the football talent within their ranks.”
The belief was met, as the Leeds Mercury reported, “Yorkshire….were defeated by the handsome margin of five goals and five tries (40 points) to nil,” adding they “have the consolation of knowing that, although they were outclassed in every department, they were at least game to the finish and made a plucky fight [of it].” It was noted that they attacked “considerably more” than England, and “on two occasions they seemed to have a possible chance of scoring themselves.”
The New Zealanders performed the Haka before the game. The Leeds Mercury explaining “The dance – a war dance appropriately – with which the weird cry was, so to speak, illustrated, was the prelude to the Colonials’ victory, though it would be going too far to say it was also its explanation. But it certainly amazed and delighted the many thousands of spectators, and one wondered that the men perched high on the topmost rail of the telegraph posts in Kirkstall Lane were able to retain their seats while the eerie business went on.” They continued, “The captain took the lead, and with his all-conquering band in a half-circle around him, he led off with the strange cry, while he topped the green sward with his foot, “keeping time, time, time in a sort of Runic rhyme” to the primitive chorus, whose members stamped and gyrated in union. No wonder that Yorkshire were unable to make headway after such an unfair advantage had been gained by their opponents. As an onlooker said, “it wor sheer intimidation, and made Yorkshire feel frightened.” It ought not to be allowed. There is no provision for it in the laws of the Rugby Union. “
‘Flaneur’, writing in the Leeds Mercury added “ten tries in the course of eighty minutes would be considered a big performance for the average team, but the New Zealanders are not an average team; they are much more than that and it seemed to me that they should have scored more with the opportunities that fell to their backs. It struck me throughout that they simply toyed with the opposition; that they felt from the outset they must win by a big margin and that they did not want to ‘rub it in’ too severely.”
One of Yorkshire’s best chances came early in the game. Billy Lynch, who was later to join Wakefield Trinity, followed up his short kick towards the try line, only to be mob tackled; “they seemed to spring up from all sides to surround the white jerseyed man in possession.” New Zealand’s tries, some marvellous, came from Ernest Booth (2), Bob Deans (2), Jimmy Hunter (2), Duncan McGregor (2) and Simon Mynott (2). Billy Wallace converted four and George Tyler one.
‘Flaneur’ explained: “There was only one Yorkshire reputation enhanced as a result of the game, J.S Auty, whilst still making the mistake of standing too far behind his three-quarters and being unable to get to the sprinters of the New Zealand team who were making for the line, at all events fielded safely and kicked with strength and judgement.” Auty so impressed the New Zealand captain Dave Gallaher that he was presented with his jersey as a mark of respect.
After the game, several of the tourists were approached by officials of Northern Union clubs with a view of switching to the professional code. Four of the squad later toured with the 1907/08 ‘All Golds’ side. There was much speculation from the Northern Union officials in attendance, including J.B Cooke, President of the Yorkshire Northern Union, that a team of Northern Union players, with the relevant practice, could beat the All Blacks. There was also much discussion around the wing-forward role of captain Dave Gallaher as an ‘obstructionist’ and whether he was offside – a discussion still had over one hundred years later about another All Black legend in the same position: Richie McCaw.
The following Saturday, the All Blacks suffered their only defeat in thirty-five matches, losing 3-0 to Wales in a game where New Zealand believed they had levelled the score late in the game, but the ‘try’ by Bob Deans was controversially disallowed by Scottish referee John Dallas. This still rankles down under to this day. Folklore says that Yorkshire had helped soften up the tourists for Wales’ benefit!