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Yorkshire’s first International opponents: New Zealand Natives

During the 1888/89 season the ‘New Zealand Natives representative football team’ played a gruelling 107 rugby games, as well as nine games of Victorian (Australian) Rules and two matches of association football, whilst touring New Zealand, Australia and the British Isles.

They were the first international touring side to visit the British Isles where they played 74 matches in six months. This averaged out at a game every 2.3 days, a record made all the more remarkable because of the size of the squad – only 26 players. The squad was originally intended to be composed of Maori or part Maori, but to which was later added five Pakeha (white New Zealanders) and the team was renamed the New Zealand Natives.

Their fixture list included games against club sides, counties and International matches against England, Wales and Ireland. They arrived in Yorkshire in October 1888 and played Hull on the 24th, Dewsbury on the 27th and Wakefield Trinity on the 31st. Later in the tour they also played Halifax Free Wanderers (twice), Batley, Bradford, Leeds Parish Church, Kirkstall, Brighouse Rangers, Huddersfield, Castleford, Spen Valley District, Manningham, Leeds St Johns, York and a return game against Hull.  In the midst of all this action, they played the Yorkshire County side twice.

Throughout the tour the press had speculated on the merits of the Natives play. An Athletic News correspondent writing at the end of October said, “The New Zealanders…. have created a fluctuation of feeling as to their abilities amongst Yorkshiremen by their respective performances against Hull and Dewsbury. After their defeat by Hull it was expected that the “shoddymen” would have no difficulty in giving them a decisive thrashing, but instead of doing this, they defeated [Dicky] Lockwood and Co. by two goals. This victory, however, must be regarded as a trifle lucky, both goals being dropped from the field, whilst Dewsbury recorded eight minors. I was not present at the match, but a friend who tells me that though the Maoris are undoubtedly splendid kickers, they are deficient in combined play and the tricky smartness which characterise many clubs.”

Whether it was an over estimation of their own prowess – Francis Marshall in ‘Football – The Rugby Union game’ wrote, “Yorkshire in 1888-89 had a wonderful team” or an underestimation of the Natives ability, Yorkshire fielded a ‘second’ XV for the first game which took place at Manningham on the 12th December 1888.

It wasn’t a plan that went down well, ‘Durham’ writing to the Yorkshire Post captured the mood, “Being a follower of Yorkshire football, I think it is a great insult to the visitors to have to meet the team chosen, saying nothing of the original Yorkshire fifteen, what it will be to them. If the Maoris were to beat this team could they take credit of beating Yorkshire County? I think not. And, again, if they did Yorkshire would turn around and say it was the second team.” On the other hand, the Athletic News announced, “The Maoris are saving it up for Yorkshire. They are going to play their best team.”

Yorkshire were beaten, the Natives scoring two goals, four tries and one minor, (10 points) to Yorkshire’s one goal, three tries, and five minors (6 points).  Otley’s M. Wyse became the first Yorkshire player to score a try against international opponents.

The Yorkshire team was, Full Back, H.O. Hamshaw (Wakefield Trinity); Three-quarters, J. Dyson (Huddersfield), F. Richmond (Huddersfield) and J. Bradley (Goole); Half Backs, H. Wood (Heckmondwike), M. Wyse (Otley); Forwards, W. Binks (Wakefield Trinity), P. Dickinson (Castleford) Captain, P. Jackson (Huddersfield), E. Holmes (Manningham), H. Noble (Heckmondwike), J.W. Brook (Bramley), J. Fisher (Bradford), W. Brown (York) and H. Webster (Halifax).

After the game the Athletic News explained, “The defeat of the Yorkshire “A” team by the Maoris was, so far as I am generally concerned, not unexpected, and I know that a great many persons shared the same anticipation. I need hardly say that it was not very welcome either, for Yorkshiremen, above all men, have a great dislike for defeat, nor matter what the circumstances may be.” They continued, “One would think…that the Yorkshire County Committeemen were a set of obtuse numbskulls, who were anxious to insult the Maoris, and set up the County as superior to the rest of the universe. The match, I must again point out, was a special one, arranged for the New Zealanders benefit, and will not count in the official county records of the season; and the County committee did perfectly right in seizing the opportunity of giving the young blood of the shire an opportunity of showing what it was capable.  The real county match with the Maoris takes place next month, and the county will then be represented at its full strength. I shall be much surprised, too, if Yorkshire does not gain a signal victory, though the Maoris are by no means to be underrated.”

Determined not to be stung again by either defeat or criticism Yorkshire selected their first choice XV for the rematch on the 19th January 1889, which was played at Belle Vue, home of Wakefield Trinity.

The Yorkshire team included eight current or future internationals. Full Back, J. Dodd (Halifax), Three-quarters R.E. Lockwood, (Dewsbury), J.W. Sutcliffe (Heckmondwike), J. Bradley (Goole); Half backs,  F. Bonsor (Bradford), W. Stadden (Dewsbury); Forwards, J. Binks (Wakefield Trinity), F. Lowrie (Wakefield Trinity), H. Bedford (Morley), G. Jackett (Hull), J.H. Jones (Wakefield Trinity), K. Holmes (Manningham), H. Wilkinson (Halifax), D. Jowett (Heckmondwike) and T. Else (Batley)

The Birmingham Post explained, “The Northern shire has chosen its strongest side …and its very keen that the New Zealanders should feel its superiority, The defeat earlier in the season of what was in reality a second fifteen has, however filled our colonial visitors with courage and hope that they may be able to keep up the prestige they gained in that match.”

The Manchester Times made the comment that the New Zealanders “are evidently beginning to feel the effects of playing so many matches, and their record…is getting considerably disfigured.”

The rematch, in front of between 6,000 -12,000 (reports differ) spectators, was described as a fast and exciting game and it was soon evident that Yorkshire were the better side, leading at half time by three goals and one minor to one try and a minor.  The pace did not relent for the second period when Yorkshire ran in another two goals, a try and five further minors, to the visitor’s one goal. The game finished, Yorkshire five goals, one try and six minors (16 points) to one goal, one try and one minor (4 points).

The Yorkshire Post reported, “Yorkshire …certainly played up to the reputation…both in and out of the scrimmage they held a decided advantage, the combination of the forwards being perfect, whilst the backs passed and ran in a style which did not fail to please the most exacting. The Maoris, on the other hand, showed a lack of science and a weakness in passing in comparison.”

It was the Natives biggest defeat of the tour. A month later, they played England at Blackheath and lost 7-0 in a controversial game. The Natives remarked that Yorkshire were a better side than England – a theory that would be tested a week later in a game between the County Champions and a rest of England team – which you can read about in a future blog.

Richard Lowther