Kiwi cyclists to repatriate ill-gotten sign

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 12:23 07/06/2014

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Last year the NZ Rugby Museum in Palmerston North found itself with an iconic rugby street sign, Rue Webb Ellis, from the city of Menton in France.

A couple of "likely rugby lads pinched it", as museum director Stephen Berg put it.

As the museum is not a depository for stolen items, Berg said it had to be returned, even if named after the founder of rugby.

"As is the New Zealand way, and for many museums the world over too, we may only retain items legally gifted and or received," Berg said.

"So everyone thought, ‘we had better give it back', we have to do the right thing."

The start of that journey began at the museum yesterday when a long-time friend of the museum, Pat Nolan, collected the sign from beneath the statue of Charles Monro, the founder of New Zealand rugby.

Nolan, with his cyclist friend, Garry Buys, have offered to take the Rue Webb Ellis sign back to Menton and hand it over to the Rugby Club Menton Webb Ellis on June 25 at the statue that honours William Webb Ellis (1806-1872).

"From the founder of New Zealand rugby to the founder of the running game of rugby."

They, along with two rugby-mad French cyclists, three Englishmen, one Scot, one Canadian, and two Americans, will be riding several of the famous Tour de France mountains as the tour proper takes place.

They will start from Lake Annecy, in the north and travel 700km over 16 cols of the Alps section of the Tour de France route, to Menton, in the south, the final resting place of William Webb Ellis.

The sign arrived at the museum by a more bizarre route.

A Frenchman from Menton visited the museum at its old site in Cuba St and noticed a photo of the street sign on the museum wall.

"I know where the actual one is," he said.

Four years later he and a friend reappeared with their booty and Berg ushered them into his office.

"They were so proud they couldn't wipe the grins off their faces," Berg said.

"They pulled the sign out, they beamed.

"They expected we'd instantly bung it up on the wall."

Instead, it must go home and now Berg is trying to contact the club which is in summer recess.

By the way, Rue Webb Ellis runs off Avenue Katherine Mansfield, named after the famous New Zealand writer.

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- Manawatu Standard

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