This collection celebrates rugby in New Zealand as it has been seen onscreen: from classic bios and tour docos, to social history, dramas and protest. In the accompanying backgrounders, broadcaster Keith Quinn looks at the on air history of rugby in NZ; and playwright David Geary asks if rugby is a religion, and argues it is a good test of character.
This NZBC documentary goes behind the scenes of the All Blacks, as the 1969 edition prepares to face the Welsh tourists. Match-day superstitions and training routines are analysed: Colin Meads relays his fitness regime (up farm hills), Sid Going discusses being a missionary, and there is much musing on all-things All Black from players, punters and even footballers’ wives. Exploration of player psychology plays it up the middle, and though the film neglects to ask how many Weetbix a player can eat, it was nominated for Best Documentary at the 1970 Feltex Awards.
This doco follows the then-world champion All Blacks on a 1989 tour of Wales and Ireland. With star winger John Kirwan as guide, “The All Black Film Unit” gives a players’ insight into an international tour in pre-professional, pre-media trained times — there’s even a plate of oranges. Match, training, and travel footage is complemented by relaxed encounters with players (Zinzan Brooke mounting a shetland pony has entered rugby folklore). Producer Ric Salizzo repeated the recipe — sports fandom mixed with schoolboy pratfalls — in the successful Sports Cafe series.
Screened in the lead-up to the 1999 World Cup final, this keenly-watched series explores the history of our most famous sports team. Episode one is framed around All Black encounters with England, Wales and Scotland. In these excerpts, Quinn tracks down 60s test prop 'Jazz' Muller (whose home is a shrine to touring days), explores prop Keith Murdoch’s infamous 1972 tour expulsion; visits the marae of George Nepia, examines rugby’s far-from-egalitarian status in England; and various All Blacks recall the rare shame of losing, amidst a history of victory.
The theatre of sport is given full-blown operatic treatment in this National Film Unit classic. Footage from the French 1979 rugby tour of New Zealand is rendered in slow-motion and cut to a Tchaikovsky score. The result is an often glorious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, paean to rugby. Balletic lineouts, driving tackles, and the dark mysteries of the ruck, make for a ballsy Swan Lake in the mud. It includes the Bastille Day French victory over the All Blacks. Directed by NFU stalwart Arthur Everard, it won a jury prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.
Host Bob Parker opens the book on the life of 81 year old George Nepia. Considered by many to be the greatest rugby fullback ever, Nepia was the star of the 1924 All Blacks, the legendary 'Invincibles'. At just 19, he played every one of their 32 games as the team went unbeaten through the British Isles. Helping celebrate Nepia's life are legendary rugby journalist TP McLean and two of NZ rugby's other stellar fullbacks, Don Clark and Bob Scott. The Invincibles' kiwi mascot makes a special appearance, and Nepia performs his hit song 'Under a Maori Moon'. Nepia died later that year.
The follow up to 1989 tour doco The Good, the Bad and the Rugby sees winger John Kirwan narrate an insider’s guide to the All Blacks’ 1990 tour to France: from Michael Jones negotiating a haircut (“how do you say ‘square top’ in French?”) to 19-year-old Simon Mannix leading a ‘Ten Guitars’ singalong. Footy relics of the era include afternoon test matches, four point tries, placed kick-offs, sneaky ciggies and Steinlager. Producer Ric Salizzo later repeated the Pasta Productions’ recipe — sports fandom mixed with schoolboy pratfalls — in the successful Sports Cafe series.
This short follows Joe Warbrick (Calvin Tuteao), captain of the New Zealand Natives rugby team, as he tries to rouse his battle-weary players to head unto the breach once more, for a test against England. It’s midwinter during the trailblazing 1888-89 tour (17 months and a staggering 107 matches) that left a black jersey and silver fern legacy. In a changing room that resembles a casualty ward, Warbrick draws breath and leads a stirring haka. Made by brothers Pere and Meihana Durie, Warbrick inspired the All Blacks the day before a 33-6 demolition of Australia in 2009.
This NFU newsreel is a wide-ranging look at ‘the national game’ in 1966. A muddy potted history (scored to rugby folk song ‘On the Ball’) rakes from the age grades to a Ranfurly Shield match, to the apex: the All Blacks. Ex-All Black fullback Bob Scott talks about the need for ‘four stone bantams’ to enjoy the game, while fellow AB Don ‘The Boot’ Clarke discusses the problems for a country player; Wellington College’s 1st XV plays a ‘traditional’ against Nelson in front of a mass haka on the terraces; and club players opine on why they play (“it’s a manly game”).
This four-part series explores New Zealand social history through rugby, from the first rugby club in 1870 to the 1995 World Cup. In this episode commentators muse on the roots of rugby in a settler society, in "a man's country". Rugby's unique connection with Māori, from Tom Ellison and the Natives’ tour to a Te Aute College haka, is explored; as well as the national identity-defining 1905 Originals’ tour, and the relationship between footy and the battlefield. As the Finlay Macdonald-penned narration reflects: “Maybe it's just a game, but it's the game of our lives”.
A death-bed confession from a touch judge leads to a repeat of a test match between the All Blacks and Wales played 25 years earlier — with the same players. Before the footy, a former Welsh star is forced to face up to a past romance. Mateships and rivalries are rekindled in this genial "what if" yarn, that celebrates and satirises two nations' rugby obsessions. It won best screenplay and supporting actor (John Bach) at 1992's NZ Film Awards. The cast saw former All Blacks and Welsh rugby reps playing alongside acting greats from both countries.
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling documentary record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the filmmakers and marchers, Patu! is a landmark in New Zealand's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
Twenty three years after Foreskin's Lament became a Kiwi cause célèbre, writer Greg McGee brought his classic play to TV. Skin and Bone "asset strips" and updates the story to reflect rugby (and society's) evolution; here Seymour (Outrageous Fortune's Antony Starr) — falteringly pursuing a professional career — returns home to play a last game for his rural club side. The brutality he witnesses leaves him questioning the morals of the code. The role of the old guard coach is reprised by Roy Billing, in McGee's opinion "the first and definitive Tupper".
This silent 16mm gem shows two legendary All Black teams in action. The film opens with a roll-call of the returning ‘Invincibles’, who — starring fullback George Nepia — were unbeaten on their international tour of 1924/5; and then features match highlights. The second clip opens with rare footage of the 1905 ‘Originals’; before returning to packed 1925 Twickenham for a test match, where the Invincibles perform “the famous Māori War Cry”, show off the Kiwi mascot (intended as a gift for the first team to beat them), meet the Prince of Wales, and defeat England.
Peppered by colourful commentary this newsreel shows highlights of the first rugby test in the 1961 series between the French tourists and the All Blacks. Fans queue outside Eden Park, playing cards or reading Lady Chatterley's Lover. Don "the mighty boot" Clarke kicks off and the ABs score right away, but Pierre "Monsieur Drop" Albaladejo pots two field goals for a French lead. The All Blacks fight back for a 13 - 6 win to delight 60,000 locals. An intercept try escapes the camera: before live broadcast developed, action was sometimes missed while changing film.
In this Talk Talk episode, Finlay Macdonald interviews one of his former teachers, All Blacks' coach Graham Henry. Forgoing discussing rugby intricacies such as the dark arts of scrummaging, the talk is about Henry's background in education and how it has influenced his coaching career. Filmed prior to World Cup 2011 glory, Henry muses on the pressure to win, dealing with stress, and high public/media expectation. Musical guest Dave Dobbyn performs 'Howling at the Moon' — chosen by Henry because "he sings 'Loyal'" — and explains his relationship with that song.
Clarke Gayford spends a day with the All Blacks' star first five-eighth. A thoroughly modern rugby player, Dan Carter talks about his underwear commercials and is seen in his Italian clothing store and being made up with fake sweat for a photo shoot. The flip side is an unwavering commitment to his craft and a training and fitness regime that leaves Gayford gasping. Carter recalls his father building him goalposts in the backyard when he was a boy — and he demonstrates the goal kicking technique that has made him the All Blacks’ leading points scorer.
This National Film Unit documentary follows the British Lions 1959 rugby tour to New Zealand. Prior to live televised sports coverage, match highlights were rushed onto cinema screens; NFU tour coverage was later edited into this feature length doco. On the field the series was won by the All Blacks 3-1, including the first test where Don Clarke famously kicked six penalties to beat the Lions’ four tries. Off the field, the Lions visited farms and resorts, drove trout and tried Māori song and dance with guide Rangi. A star back for the Lions was Peter Jackson.
Based on the US show of the same name, This Is Your Life has been honouring famous Kiwis since 1984. This 1988 edition hosted by Bob Parker features Colin “Pinetree” Meads, whose All Black career spanned 15 years, 133 games and 55 test matches. New Zealand’s “Rugby Player of the Century,” remains modest throughout his tribute at the Avalon TV Centre, where guests include fellow All Black legends Brian Lochore, Kel Tremain and Wilson Whineray; and Irish referee Kevin Kelleher, who controversially ordered Meads off the field in Scotland in 1967.
This 1992 TV ONE doco follows the All Blacks on their first post-apartheid visit to South Africa. The footy tour tomfoolery of producer Ric Salizzo’s earlier All Blacks’ docos is subbed off for reflections on politics and sport from players (including ex-All Black Ken Gray who refused to tour the republic in 1970 and joined protesters in 1981). Not all goes to script for a “new South Africa”: the Afrikaans anthem is played before the Ellis Park test, and the All Blacks win. Future SA cricket star Herschelle Gibbs is a young coloured player mentored by the ABs.
With stints as an All Black, Springbok triallist, sports presenter, National MP, and sometime celebrity chef, Grahame Thorne has experienced his share of fame. But perhaps his hottest 15 minutes came after he dared to present the sports news one day in 1983 ... with a perm. The ensuing national trauma inspired headlines, irate phonecalls, and “curls are for girls” banners at rugby games. Sadly the perm’s freshest incarnation is lost to the archives, and this slightly grown-out version is the only extant evidence of a key moment in Kiwi fashion history.
All Black great Grant Fox is given the big red book in this award-winning episode of This is Your Life. The first five-eighth’s record points tally and marshalling of stars like John Kirwan made the playmaker a key cog in the 1987 Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks and champion Auckland teams. His distinctive goal-kicking ritual became as reassuring as a metronome for fans. The diminutive Auckland Grammar old boy meets family and teammates, discusses discipline and his single All Blacks try, and gets busted by coach John Hart. Fox would become an All Blacks selector.
This three part mini-series is loosely based on the remarkable tour by the NZ Natives rugby team which played 107 games in Australasia and Great Britain in 1888-89. At its heart is a cross-cultural love story between Pony — the grandson of a chief and one of the side’s stars — and Charlotte: the granddaughter of an English Earl (Ian Richardson of House of Cards fame). The tour provided the first exposure to Māori for many in the UK. The interaction could be uncomfortable but even more so when affairs of the heart threatened the cultural divide.
Stéphane Le Goff and Frédéric Khan's documentary is an intimate first-person journey through the life and times of the late All Black icon — charting a meteoric rise from an abusive Māngere childhood to his arrival as rugby’s first international superstar, while managing a rare and serious kidney disorder. This excerpt reveals Lomu’s readiness on the eve of his devastating performance against England in the 1995 World Cup, with English fullback Mike Catt offering his recollection of that try. The 90-minute documentary debuted in NZ on Sky, and later screened on Māori Television.
Highlights from the second test of the 1966 Lions tour feature in this NFU newsreel. Soundly beaten in the first test, the Lions took drastic steps for this match at Wellington’s Athletic Park: dropping six players including their captain. On a muddy ground, with the capital’s wind playing its part, the Lions are more competitive — but the All Blacks run out deserved winners with tries to Kel Tremain, Tony Steel and a rampant Colin Meads (but no on-field celebrating). Half-back (future MP and radio announcer) Chris Laidlaw also figures prominently.
This 1966 NFU film shows highlights of the fourth rugby test between the touring British Lions and New Zealand's All Blacks. Filmed in the days before live telecast of home matches (it was feared attendance would be affected) the Eden Park test features some classical rucking and free-flowing back-line play. A broken collarbone reduces the Lions to 14 men early on (injury replacements were not allowed) and the All Blacks prevail 24-11. Coached by Fred Allen, a great AB line-up (the Meads bros, Tremain, Nathan, Gray, Lochore) won the series 4-0.
If the Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand in 1981 had been halted from the outset, the impact on the hearts and minds of South Africans would not have been as profound. The original point of difference of this Leanne Pooley-directed film is to show how events in NZ (captured in Merata Mita's documentary Patu!) played out in South Africa; how the tour protests energized blacks, and shamed the regime, and provoked democratic change. Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "You really can't even compute its value, it said the world has not forgotten us, we are not alone."
The third of Pasta Productions’ popular All Blacks documentaries sees winger John Kirwan provide running commentary on the team’s path to the 1991 World Cup in England: from Argentina to Sydney and Auckland to contest the Bledisloe; from facing bottle and orange missiles in Tucumán to touch on Bondi Beach. JK muses on why coach Alex Wyllie is nicknamed ‘Grizz’, Neil and Tim Finn provide musical accompaniment (“I see black”), and Canterbury Uglies are the training uniform du jour. Meanwhile on-field signs are ominous for the reigning world champs.
“1-2-3, Ngāti!” This is a behind the scenes look at the Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby team’s 2001 campaign. Beginning with a Ruatoria marae live-in, the film follows the team’s unlikely efforts to win National Provincial Championship’s 2nd Division. The classic underdog story captures grassroots rugby’s strong community ties. The secret weapon of NZ’s only iwi-founded union? “Whānau spirit”. As prop Orcades Crawford says: “when you put on a sky blue jersey it’s totally different to anything else - it’s probably better than the All Blacks [jersey]!”
This hit animated TV comedy follows the adventures of five kids growing up in the Auckland suburb of Morningside. This rugby-themed episode starts with God praising George Nepia (with Jesus weeping because he’s no good at sports), before heading down to Morningside for a lesson on teamwork. As the Sylvester 1st XV face up against a superstar team which includes Tana Umaga and Stacey Jones, Mack pulls a sicky so that his mates won't find out how little he knows about the game. Michael Jones is the Savages' inspirational coach.
This excerpt from a post-war NFU newsreel begins at Eden Park for a match between Auckland and the ‘Kiwis’ (the army’s NZEF team), then goes on a jaunty ride through all-things rugby in NZ: from 1st XV (Wellington College), club and provincial (Ranfurly Shield in the Southland rain) clashes, to boot-making and badge selling on match day, with rugby’s centrality to the Kiwi psyche underlined throughout. “Rugby’s never over, though the crowds stream home from Eden Park or any place we play, to fans and players alike it will always be a part of our national life!”
These short profiles of then-current All Blacks were made for TV3 as part of a pre-Rugby World Cup 2007 series. Each involves an interview with the player in a formative context for them, eg. their hometown, club ground, old school or favourite surf beach. The interviewer is James Gemmell, and interviewees included tighthead prop Carl Hayman, flanker Jerry Collins, hooker Anton Oliver and fullback Mils Muliaina. The players are relaxed and surprisingly candid, as Oliver says when reflecting on the burden of captaincy: “I was sh*tting myself for a while.”
In Scarfies, five Dunedin students find themselves in a free squat, and a dark place, after taking a criminal captive in their basement. The debut feature from Robert Sarkies starts as a comic tribute to Otago student days, then turns into a psychological thriller. Outside of the two Warriors movies, Scarfies was the most successful Kiwi release of the 90s on home turf. It went on to scoop best film, director and screenplay awards at the 2000 NZ Film and TV Awards. This excerpt sees the scarfies torn between dealing with the crim and a footy match at Carisbrook.
Tony Williams recognised that passion makes for compelling human interest whatever the subject and came up with the idea of a “pub battle” where three people from very different fields, but united by a common dedication to their respective callings, would be brought together to debate their obsessions. The subjects — choirmaster Maxwell Fernie, astronomer Peter (Night Sky) Read, and sports journalist Terry ‘TP’ McLean — are also filmed separately at work; shots of Fernie working with his choir are particularly notable in the scrum of sport, art and science.
Gladiator: the Norm Hewitt story is the story of former All Black hooker Norm Hewitt's battle with alcoholism and his journey to redemption. After disgracing himself, a tearful public apology became a personal "defining moment" for Hewitt: he reinvented himself as a youth worker and ambassador for Outward Bound. Directed by Michael Bennet, shot by Rewa Harre and based on the best-selling biography by Michael Laws the doco takes him to meet legendary youth worker Mama Teri on the streets of South Auckland, and chronicles Hewitt's life change.
In the vein of 'We are the World' and 'Do They Know It’s Christmas', 'Don’t Go' rallied NZ musicians to express their opposition to the proposed 1985 All Black tour of South Africa. Don McGlashan, Chris Knox and Rick Bryant were the front row for this one-off single: a catchy number written by McGlashan, Frank Stark and Geoff Chapple. The video — directed by Alison Maclean and shot by Stuart Dryburgh — never attempts to get in the way of the message, placing the ensemble cast in front of red, white and black backdrops (interspersed with rugby imagery).
Lew Pryme's life was a wild ride that took in everything from rock and roll to rugby before it was cut short by AIDS in 1990 (he was 51). This moving documentary interviews an ailing Pryme reflecting on his journey and (still secret) sexuality; it follows him from Waitara to becoming one of the most popular hip-swinging music stars of the 60s. He went on to manage singers Mark Williams, Rob Guest and Tina Cross; and in the early 80s he became the first executive director of Auckland Rugby Union, introducing cheerleaders and 'pizazz' to Eden Park.
Young Geoff Garlick reckons he's developed a game-winning move - the 'Garlick Thrust' - for his schoolboy rugby team, but the Saturday he hopes to show it off to his dysfunctional family they're more interested in the Springbok match. The national loss of innocence the '81 tour represented is captured in an end scene, where Geoff and his weeping Dad (Michael Noonan) are intercut with clips of a notorious stand-off between tour protestors and rugbyheads. Written by playwright Bruce Mason, this was one of a three TV dramas written as he was battling cancer.
Jim Greenhough profiles Colin 'Pinetree' Meads — NZ rugby’s Player of the Century — who represented his country in 133 matches from 1957 to 1971; and he spends a day with the 71-year-old All Black legend on the King Country farm he has worked all his adult life. Meads drenches sheep and muses on rugby as it was, its modern incarnation and the way new farming methods have changed the provincial game which was once the sport’s back-bone. Photographer Peter Bush recalls his years of following and shooting Meads who, he says, has aged like a fine wine.
Fifteen-year-old James is a suburban kid who tries to have it all one night on Courtenay Place. A sensitive lead turn from newcomer Aaron McGregor captures the intensity of being taken by the night, as booze and hormones derail romantic intentions. Choice Night was a second short collaboration between director Christopher Dudman and writer Paul Stanley Ward, loosely based on the latter’s experiences as a teenager in 90s Wellington. It was selected for the Clermont-Ferrand (in competition), and BFI London film fests, and won Best International Short at Geneva.
In this unexpurgated (and until-now unscreened) interview, Keith Quinn talks to TP 'Terry' McLean, who Quinn has called “the best rugby writer we have ever produced”. The late author and NZ Herald sports editor reminisces widely, though All Blacks are often on the menu: the “God-like figure” of George Nepia (who McLean wrote a book with), “audacious, thoughtful, cunning, chess player” Bob Scott, and Colin Meads, who McLean is candid in his opinion of. Quinn quizzes McLean on his beginnings, favourite sporting memories, and all-time favourite All Black Captain.
This is a documentary about three high profile sports officiators and what makes them tick. Billy Bowden, the showman of international cricket, took up umpiring when arthritis prevented him from playing. Southlander Paddy O'Brien left police to become one of the world's top rugby referees. Pin-up Steve Walsh began refereeing when a neck injury curtailed contact sports. The Whistle Blowers explores the qualities that made them successful sports policemen. After a public battle with alcoholism, Walsh has since returned to refereeing at the top level in Australia.
Attitude is a weekly series looking at the issues and interests of people living with a disability. This Attitude special follows the Wheelblacks wheel chair rugby team over four years as they prepare for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Four Wheelblacks were on the production team of Attitude at the time, and player and associate producer Curtis Palmer hosts the programme. The doco follows the team from their gold medal win at the Athens Paralympics in 2004, through their various international competitions in the lead-up to Beijing.
The dark arts of the maul and scrum are shown in a new light in this short horror from Wellington filmmaker Colin Hodson. A failed try out for the local team spurs young rugby player Will (Ian Lesa) into greater efforts at training; after all, as the cardboard cutout rugby hero in the shop window tells him: “no guts, no glory”. But when he discovers some oval-shaped oddities in the steamy changing room, he’s given cause to question his ambitions. Maul screened at New Zealand and Melbourne Film Festivals in 2013. Ex-All Black Dallas Seymour plays the coach.