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Great NZ Rugby Myths Exploded in New Book

Great New Zealand Rugby Myths
Exploded in New Book

New Zealand's rugby story is usually told as a game nurtured in the rural heartland, embracing, and embraced by, people from all walks of life. But is this the true story?

Tackling Rugby Myths: Rugby & New Zealand Society 1854-2004, edited by Greg Ryan, confronts historical myths and contemporary assumptions about the game.

Myth #1: Rugby quickly became New Zealand's national game
In fact, it took a while for rugby to become the national game for a number of reasons. Its physicality - purportedly essential to its popularity among colonial men - was frequently a discouraging factor. Although supposedly classless, there has been a disproportionate All Black presence from white-collar professions.

Myth #2: Rugby derives its strength from its rural base
The rural player base has never contributed a great deal to All Black success. Detailed analyses of pre- and post- World War II All Blacks, and the local and provincial rugby infrastructure from which they emerged, show that the New Zealand game was decidedly urban.

Myth #3: The 1905 tour to Great Britain was nation-defining
Historians have invented a tradition of 1905 that limits understandings of the tour and the birth of the All Blacks. While the tour is undoubtedly significant - it named them, gave them a symbolic outfit, required a pre-match performance, and created expectations of success - what actually went on during the tour mattered less to rugby writers than the ideal that this was 'a nation-defining' tour.

Myth #4: Maori were keenly involved in rugby early on
Despite a popular view that rugby willingly accepted Maori and broke racial barriers, there was limited growth in the Maori game, and an ambiguous Pakeha response to it. Maori rugby from its beginnings was limited by geography and demography, and the origins of representative Maori teams had as much to do with countering rugby league than any positive desire to advance the Maori game. Rugby intersected with a range of myths and stereotypes concerning the standing of Maori within New Zealand society, and these particularly came to the fore during debates over sporting contacts with South Africa.

Myth #5: The 1981 Springbok tour drew women together against rugby
The idea that there was widespread and influential feminist revolt against rugby and patriarchy during the Springbok tour has been accepted at face value by academics and other writers. However feminist and feminist-influenced voices were actually few and far between, and there was continuity in gender relations.

Myth #6: Professionalism has damaged the New Zealand game
The aura of All Black invincibility that apparently unravelled in the late 1990s is one constructed from selective memory of who the All Blacks were and what they achieved. The reasons for the team's failure, and the cure for it, are derived from myths and clichés that hold no relevance to the actual nature of New Zealand rugby during the twentieth century.

Contributors to this book challenge traditional views of rugby in two ways. They scrutinise club membership and New Zealand census data to examine the myths of egalitarianism and rural origins. Second, they show how a number of historians have reinforced a popular rugby mythology that actually distorts the game's true history. Tacking Rugby Myths is published by University of Otago Press.

Book details
Tackling Rugby Myths: Rugby and New Zealand Society 1854-2004
Edited by Greg Ryan
ISBN 1 877276 97 9
RRP $39.95

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