Never broadcast on local TV, Men of the Silver Fern was made for the NZRFU (now known as New Zealand Rugby) for its 1992 centenary. Four hour-long programmes provided a chronological celebration of all things All Black, told via archive footage and over 40 interviews with players, officials and historians (reenactments illustrate the early era). Originally planned as a single programme, it was decided to release the four episodes as a ‘collector’s edition’ VHS box-set. Peter Coates directed, and produced with Keith Quinn and rugby administrators Ces Blazey and Ivan Vodanovich.
Men of the Silver Fern was a four-part celebration of all things All Black, made in 1992 for the centenary of the NZRFU (now known as New Zealand Rugby). This first episode covers the early period from when Charles Monro kicked off the sport in NZ in Nelson on 14 May 1870, through the establishment of rules, provincial unions and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union. The programme surveys the front-running international tours — from the 1884 Flaxlanders to the 1888 Natives, 1905 Originals and 1924 Invincibles — where the All Blacks’ "winning reputation" was forged.
This final edition of the 1992 celebration of New Zealand Rugby runs from grand slam success to the cusp of the professional era. But in-between, rugby and politics combusted. When the Springboks, representing apartheid South Africa, toured NZ in 1981, barbed wire, flour bombs and riot police were match fixtures. Kiwis were either for or against. The tour’s aftermath and public disillusionment with the sport found relief in 1987, when the All Blacks won the first Rugby World Cup; three undefeated years followed. Three NZRFU centennial tests close the series.
This third episode of Men of the Silver Fern follows the fortunes of the All Blacks from 1956 to 1978. In 1956 the All Blacks had beaten the Springboks by playing a conservative ’10-man’ game, but they faced criticism for their dour pragmatism. A decade later the backs were back: coach Fred ‘The Needle’ Allen based his triumphant turn at the helm of the All Blacks on expressive, running rugby. This episode follows the All Blacks’ ongoing mission to win a series in South Africa, and achieve a ‘grand slam’ of victories over the home unions on a tour of the UK.
The second episode of this 1992 celebration of New Zealand rugby looks at the period from 1925 - 1956, as depression and war affected the national game. Scrum rules changed — outlawing the wing forward position, pioneered by the Kiwis — and NZ found itself chasing the pack: the no-longer-invincible All Blacks regularly came out losers playing against South Africa. The Springbok was finally felled in a series by the Kiwis in 1956 (played at home in front of huge, manic crowds). All Black Peter Jones famously summed it up the achievement post match: “I’m absolutely buggered”.